Senate, House approve bill to raise fines for violating campaign ad laws

BY QUINN HUMPHREY
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A bill that would raise the civil penalty for violating political campaign advertisement disclosure laws against a clearly identified candidate unanimously passed the Senate 98-0 on March 2. 

HB 125, introduced by Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, will raise the penalty for violating campaign disclosure laws from a maximum of $2,500 up to a maximum of $25,000. The bill passed the House vote on Feb. 3, 100-0. The Senate Privileges and Election Committee passed the bill with a 14-0 vote with one abstention on March 1. 

When speaking to the Senate Privileges and Election Committee, Davis discussed the minimal effect the current fine has on deterring attack advertisements without candidate disclosure. Davis also described the deliberate business decision, especially from political consultants, to omit disclosure based on the minuscule penalty for doing so. 

“They can take a huge hit without any fallout,” Davis said. “We’re going to raise it to $10,000 and if that doesn’t work, then we’ll see what comes next. Consultants need to have a bigger penalty before they violate the law.”

During committee deliberations, senators expressed their concerns over potentially regulating political free speech and the enforcement of this fine. Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon,  specifically cited the complexity of imposing this fine and the potential for future restrictions.

“First Amendment political speech is one of the most highly protected constitutional zones 

that exist in our society,” Surovell said. “It’s a whole different planet when you regulate what comes out of somebody’s mouth, and it gets even hotter when you regulate it and it comes to politics.”

Surovell explained to the committee that the regulation of political speech must be clearly defined so that any person or party knows where the line is before they cross it, he said.

However, Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, offered a dissenting opinion to Surovell. To Peake, this bill simply increases the fine for violation of campaign advertisement disclosure laws. 

“I just don’t see that this is regulating political speech at all,” Peake said. “It changes the penalties but it is not regulating the speech at all. This simply increases the penalty and I don’t see how it brings in any new constitutional issues.”

Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, agreed, arguing that the bill needed “teeth,” otherwise it was a waste of time, he said. 

Yet, the committee, who spent over an hour deliberating the bill, did not initially understand Sen. Surovell’s First Amendment concerns. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, clarified the issue by defining speech content discrimination and the specific language that prompted the discussion.

“By treating advertisements expressly advocating against a candidate that violate the law differently from advertisements that expressly advocate in favor of a candidate, that by definition is regulating content of political speech differently,” McClellan said. 

If the point here is we want a different penalty for someone who violates the law and we’re treating them the same whether it’s a negative or positive ad, that is fine but that is not what this does.” 

McClellan’s amendment to the bill changed the language to apply to both positive and negative political advertisements omitting candidate disclosure. However, the bill and subsequent penalties would only be applied to advertisements expressly advocating for the defeat of a clearly identified candidate. 

Assembly passes bill to increase compensation for those wrongfully convicted

BY ALAN CLANCY
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A bill proposed by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, that has passed the General Assembly would change the level of compensation provided to wrongfully incarcerated persons upon their release from prison in Virginia.

         Under current law, a person receives 90% of per capita income for each year they were incarcerated. Lucas’s bill, SB 755, which passed the House Tuesday with block vote approval, will make compensation $55,000 per year of incarceration, adjusted annually for inflation.

Ninety percent of per capita income in Virginia was $55,762 in 2020, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve. This means that, although the bill was proposed as a way to increase compensation for the wrongfully incarcerated, payment is higher under current law than under SB 755.

This was not the case with the original version of the bill. That version, which passed the Senate with minor adjustments on Feb. 4, would have linked compensation to median household income. In Virginia, this figure is often significantly higher than $55,000. It was $79,154 in 2020, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

         “The reason for the change that is needed is because wrongfully convicted individuals lose the opportunity to get their education, to build a career and learn technological skills,” Lucas said while describing the original version of the bill during the Senate vote on Feb. 4. “Restraints on individuals’ personal liberties don’t always end when the wrongfully convicted walk out of the prison.”

            Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, who is a co-patron of SB 755, wrote in an email that she was pleased to join Lucas in advancing the legislation.

         “The Commonwealth can never return the time unjustly taken from wrongfully convicted Virginians,” McClellan wrote, “but this bill will take major steps to enable them to transition back and receive the compensation they are due.”

Bills often change as they move through the legislative process, according to the U.S. House of Representatives website. Legislators debate and amend portions of the bill with which they disagree until the bill is killed or a final version is agreed upon. As a result, the version of SB 755 that received final passage in the House differs greatly from the version that Lucas and McClellan’s comments refer to.

         In addition to increasing the amount of compensation, the original bill provided $25,000 per year for time spent as a registered sex offender or on death row, parole or probation. This portion was removed from the final version. 

The original also amended current legislation to award the full compensation amount as a lump sum. The final version awards 25% as a lump sum, with the remaining 75% being used to purchase an annuity. This is a minor change from current law, under which 20% is awarded as a lump sum and 80% is used to purchase an annuity.

         Additionally, the original bill removed provisions of current law that require wrongfully incarcerated persons to forfeit their unpaid compensation if they are convicted of another felony after their release. In this case, the final version remained consistent with the original and also removed this provision.

         Julia Hatchett, associate director of the Innocence Project at UVA School of Law, wrote in an email that she and her organization supported SB 755 and were grateful for Lucas’s efforts but were disheartened to see so many changes in the final version.

Republicans hold a majority in the House, while Democrats have a majority in the Senate. The Senate vote was largely split across party lines, with only one Republican voting yes.

Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, who voted no in the Senate vote, explained in an email his rationale for doing so.

            “I believe that a better way to deal with the issue is an evaluation of each case individually,” Ruff wrote. “There are mitigating factors that should be considered on a case by case basis.”

The bill awaits Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s signature before it can become law.

House advances bill to bar long-term isolation in juvenile correctional centers

BY MICHELLE PARENTE AND TERESA ROZIER
STAFF WRITERS
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A key House committee passed a Senate bill that prohibits isolated confinement in juvenile correctional centers and state correctional facilities, subject to specific exceptions. 

The bill, SB108, abolishes long-term solitary confinement of no more than 15 days during a 60-day period in state and juvenile correctional facilities. 

The bill defines isolated confinement as the imprisonment of an incarcerated person or juvenile to a cell, with or without another incarcerated person or juvenile, for 20 hours or more per day. 

The bill also requires prisoners in solitary confinement to receive four hours per day outside of their confinement for recreation or exercise and receive mental health evaluation during the first 24 hours. Staff must provide reasoning for the prisoner’s confinement every 48 hours, unless the prisoner consented to confinement or is under investigation by the Department of Corrections facility. 

Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, proposed and prefiled the bill on Jan. 6. It passed Senate 21-18 in the Democratic-majority House on Feb. 4. After the Senate passed the bill, the House Public Safety subcommittee unanimously passed the bill with substitutes on Feb. 25. 

Morrissey reminded senators in a Rehabilitation and Social Services meeting on Jan. 14 that an identical bill, barring specific exceptions, passed the Senate in 2021. The bill died in House because the corrections department suggested the appropriated fiscal impact of $32 million was too large, he said. 

Morrissey shared his concern with the previous year’s outcome in the meeting. 

“There was no suggestion by DOC that it had any fiscal impact at all – we’re abolishing a program,” he said. “I have the fiscal impact and they suggest that there’s a DOC estimated cost of $4.8 million and, and a DJJ [Department of Juvenile Justice] of $3.3 million.” 

Morrissey further addressed financial concerns by describing states’ successful abolishment of solitary confinement in the meeting.  

Colorado, Illinois and Mississippi closed isolation units between the years of 2013 and 2014 and saved approximately $13.6, $26 and $8 million a year, respectively, without negative impacts, he said.

Kim Bobo, director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, spoke in favor of the bill in the meeting. Virginia faith communities unite in their opposition of solitary confinement and describe it as a practice of torture, an affront to God and a violation of scripture, she said. 

Bobo also stated that the DOC claims it ended solitary confinement, but continues to practice it by referring to it as restrictive or restorative housing. 

“Change of language isn’t change of practice,” Bobo said. “Whatever you call it, isolating people for long periods of time is torture.”

Natasha White, coordinator for the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement, agreed with Bobo that solitary confinement is a form of torture and addressed its effects on prisoners’ mental health. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that prisoners in solitary confinement may suffer from hallucinations, nervousness and an ability to develop thoughts and speech, she said. 

White also stated that DOC settled two lawsuits because of negative consequences of placing prisoners in solitary confinement. One prisoner faced 12 years of solitary confinement due to a language barrier and another prisoner, who struggled with mental illness, faced 600 days of confinement, White said. 

David Smith, the chair of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement, spoke in favor of the bill and represented 29 organizations in Virginia. 

“Solitary confinement is still being practiced in this state,” Smith said. “DOC has settled four lawsuits since 2020 about their abuses on solitary confinement. We are asking you to take the humane and the fiscally responsible choice today of voting on the policy to end solitary confinement, the extended solitary confinement, the torture of Virginians in our prisons.”

Joe Giarratano, a former prisoner, shared his personal experience in solitary confinement and its impact in the meeting. 

Giarratano spent approximately 16 years in solitary confinement under one Virginia sentence because he filed lawsuits and helped prisoners understand the law, he said.

“In the years that I was there, I’ve seen men kill themselves, cut themselves – I watched a man cut his p**** off – not because he was crazy – he was made crazy by being isolated,” Giarratano said.

He explained how the lack of human interaction and stimulation negatively affects the human mind.

“I’m here as an exception to the rule, but I’m not undamaged,” he said. “I have nightmares. I’m claustrophobic. I had to quit a job because I couldn’t keep going into jails and prisons. It was too much – the PTSD gets to me.” 

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, also shared his personal experience, visiting solitary confinement cells in three Virginia state prisons, during the third reading of the bill on Feb. 4. 

“Imagine yourself in a room the size of a very, very small walk-in closet, and a narrow slit for a window and a small opening in a steel cell door that is unlocked only to insert a tray of cold food at mealtime,” Ebbin said. “No books in many cases, no communications and according to one formerly incarcerated person whom I met this morning, only roaches, snakes and mice to accompany.” 

Prisoners shower every three days in handcuffs or, in some cases, on dog leashes, he said. 

“If you’re not mentally ill when you enter solitary confinement you certainly could be when you leave,” Ebbin said. 

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, opposed the bill and countered Ebbin’s description of prison life in solitary confinement. 

“On my staff, I have officers who have actually worked in the prisons and have worked solitary confinement,” she said. “One of the things that they tell me is that, in fact, the inmates are not cuffed. They do get one call a day. They get outside recreation two hours a day, outside in single fences in areas.”

Ebbin responded to Chase by stating that he witnessed prisoners being led to showers in handcuffs, which a warden told him was a standard practice in solitary confinement, he said.

Ebbin also shared his approval of this year’s budget and its ability to improve prison staffing, which in turn will improve the treatment of prisoners and the system. 

“Let’s keep nudging the Department of Corrections in the right direction, and in more humanely rehabilitating inmates, and let’s pass this bill,” he said. 

The bill aims to go into effect on July 1, 2023. 

House bill seeks changes for nurse practitioner regulation

Del. Dawn Adams – General Assembly photo

BY HALEY GIBBONS
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A House bill that would reduce the number of years full time experience a nurse practitioner must have in order to function without a practice agreement is under consideration in a Senate subcommittee. 

The bill, HB 1245 was proposed by Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond, with bipartisan support. It reduces from five to two years required for nurse practitioners to have what is called autonomous practice, which is practice characterized by independent or self-determined professional judgment and action. 

“Since April 2020, as a result of the initial executive order, nurse practitioners with two or more years of experience have been able to apply for autonomous practice. This application for autonomous practice is an option that has benefitted the commonwealth of Virginia particularly during the pandemic,” Adams said during the Feb. 3 hearing.

A report conducted on advanced practice nursing by the board of health professions was shared by Adams, who is a nurse practitioner.

“In short, the report found no significant concerns regarding nurse practitioner practice, outcomes, or quality of care. Further, there were no significant issues related to complaints or litigation and in fact, were similar to that of physicians,” Adams said. “The study did too, show that……practice in a variety of settings do help improve access to rural and underserved areas.”

Part of Adams’ reason for proposing the bill is to highlight the difference between how physicians and advanced practice nurses currently work. 

“I know I have spoken to the differences in scope of practice between physicians and APNs in the past and I want to reiterate, that while physicians have unlimited scope of practice and by law, are only required to complete medical school and one year of residency to have this unlimited scope of practice, nurse practitioners have the very discrete scope of practice that is tied directly to their national certification,” Adams said. 

Adams shared a personal testimony.

“In discussions with nurse practitioners like myself who have had decades of experience prior to obtaining autonomous practice due to the law, we’ve been able to see that there are adverse unintended consequences to overly long transition periods. The frame used to benchmark this training period is typically residency programs. Residency programs have very prescribed levels of learning, responsibility, and accountability. By virtue of the fact that it is a residency program, they must learn new information. Nurse practitioners upon graduation and employment by a physician or an institution are at the mercy of that entity. Specifically, as to what they are allowed to do irrespective of their education and training,” Adams said.

“While there are many physicians who are fantastic teachers and mentors who work in partnerships with NPs this is not mandatory, nor is it guaranteed. There are many physician practices that severely limit what nurse practitioners can do even though they are educated to practice beyond the provider’s decision that effectively dumb down the nurse practitioner over time due to these randomly imposed limitations.  

During the hearing, several family nurse practitioners gave statements via Zoom. 

“Access to care is critical and many of our communities are struggling. We need to stop reacting to fear driven arguments and instead allow evidence-based data from other states who have demonstrated safe and high-quality outcomes in regard to NP care,” said Dr. Rebekah Compton, a Charlottesville nurse practitioner. 

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education and Health committee on March 3.

House passes bill to require schools to give gambling addiction information

Del. Sam Rasoul- General Assembly photo

BY MAEVE MCCORMICK
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

The House voted 97-3 to pass a bill that would require public schools to provide instruction about the addictive potential of gambling as prescribed by the Board of Education.

HB 1108, introduced by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, has support from six Democrat copatrons.

“When we are teaching in school about addiction—the addiction around drug abuse, alcohol abuse, money, other addictive products—we also insert some curriculum around the addiction of gambling,” Rasoul said in a Feb. 8 K-12 subcommittee meeting. 

The bill would also require the Board of Education to report a description of the gambling instruction program to the Chairmen of the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education and Health. 

That portion of the bill, started as a friendly amendment, was offered by Education Committee member Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun. LaRock, while supportive of the intent of the bill, had some reservations about what the content of the instruction would be once developed, he said during the committee meeting.

“Approximately 4-5% of youth, ages 12-17, meet one or more criteria of having a gambling problem,” according to the National Council on Problem Gambling website. “Another 10-14% are at risk of developing an addiction, which means that they already show signs of losing control over their gambling behavior.”

Rasoul told the committee that his social media had been flooded with gambling ads, making gambling a more prevalent topic that is harder for the youth to ignore.

“I remember as a kid, we used to pinch pennies, so it taught me a lesson…,” Education Committee member Del. John Avoli, R-Staunton, said. “I don’t gamble today.”

Evidence suggests that improving the youth’s understanding of risk-taking and decision making will help in their refusal skills toward potentially addictive substances and activities and encourage them to make smarter choices about their time and money, Rasoul said during the committee meeting.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Education and Health on March 3.

Bill to bar campaign funds for personal use fails again

BY LEAH HINCKS
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A bill that would prohibit Virginia politicians from converting campaign funds for personal use failed on Wednesday for the eighth year in a row

The bill, SB 463, proposed by Sen. John Bell, D-Chantilly, passed the Senate 37-3 with support from Republicans and Democrats, but was killed 5 to 3 in the Republican-majority House Privileges and Elections subcommittee. 

According to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article published in Aug. 2021, Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, proposed a similar bill which was killed in the Senate. The bill prohibited the use of all campaign funds for personal use, excluding childcare. Lawmakers suggested redrafting the bill this year to achieve a more bipartisan approach, according to the article. 

In the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 General Assembly sessions, the Senate Privileges and Elections committee has voted against the bill. The bill has failed under Democratic and Republican majorities.

Under SB 463, campaign funds would be considered to have been converted to personal use if  “the contribution, in whole or in part, is used to fulfill any commitment, obligation, or expense that would exist irrespective of the person’s seeking, holding, or maintaining public office.” 

Furthermore, only a constituent or a donor may file a complaint, Bell said during a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee hearing. When a complaint is filed, there is an investigative process to determine if the complaint is legitimate, and at any point during the investigation, the candidate may return or refund the item, he said. 

SB 463 received support from both legislators and civilians, but a number of legislators voiced concerns in the House and the Senate. 

Among the legislators who pushed back on the bill was Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon. Surovell expressed his frustration with the committee for removing the enactment clause, which tied the bill to Federal Election Committee law. 

“By deconforming from federal law, all we’re doing is creating a minefield,” Surovell said. 

Bell responded, saying that although it is not directly linked to the Federal Election Committee, most of the bill is in line with the federal guidelines. 

Also skeptical of the bill was Sen. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake. If someone files a complaint against a candidate during an election for using campaign funds for personal use, and the media finds out, that candidate is ruined, he said. 

“The press love to eat us up,” Spruill said.

State politicians urge Ukraine support after Biden speech

BY NATASHA SOKOLOFF
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Virginia legislators say they are united in support of Ukraine despite contrasting views along party lines about President Biden’s leadership.

Biden rebuked Russian President Vladimir Putin and declared that the U.S. and its allies will continue to hold him accountable during his address to the nation on March 1. Several Virginia representatives attended the State of the Union address and wore yellow and blue, the Ukrainian flag colors.

“I think as leaders in Virginia we can be as supportive as we can of Ukraine and America’s leadership in trying to try to end this war,” said Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Fairfax, who called for a moment of silence at the General Assembly on Feb. 28 in support of Ukraine.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger posted a photo of herself on Twitter wearing yellow and blue at the State of the Union address.

“Everyone fighting for their freedom on the ground in Ukraine needs to know we are standing with them,” she said on PBS news hour

After the address, Spanberger tweeted that the speech gave her hope that the U.S. and its allies could continue to come together in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We must support our Ukrainian allies who are bravely fighting for their freedom by providing arms, equipment, and humanitarian aid,” she wrote. “We must also ensure that Putin, his inner circle, and his oligarch cronies face unrelenting economic, social, and worldwide consequences.”

State Sen. L Lousie Lucas and U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, both Democrats, posted photos of themselves wearing the colors at the address, writing that they stood in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and later tweeted their support of Biden’s remarks. 

Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Wittman, who posted a photo before the address wearing a commemorative flag pin to honor Ukraine, criticized Biden’s speech in a tweet with the hashtag “#SOTUinCrisis.”

Democrats and Republicans alike have called for further action and sanctions against Russia.

Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark Warner praised Biden’s speech in a tweet on March 1.

“Tonight, @POTUS spoke not just to Congress or to the American people, but to the world,” Warner wrote. “I was pleased to hear the message of strength that for weeks has helped to rally our NATO allies around democracy and in support of the Ukrainian people.” 

He tweeted on March 2 that Congress should pass a law to support humanitarian assistance and provide more weapons to Ukraine, adding that these were bipartisan priorities.

State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, R- Virginia Beach, spoke on the floor on Feb. 24 in support of the Ukrainian people and also urged the U.S. to take a stronger response.

“As a representative of a district with one of the largest active duty military populations in the country, I’m watching how the United States will react and how we will compel Russia to cease and desist,” she said. 

Luria wrote that Biden made clear in his speech that Putin and Russia would continue to pay a steep price for the invasion of Ukraine and reiterated that both parties in Congress must come together in a statement following the address on March 1.

Biden must also increase defense and national security spending to better prepare for the threats we face and to send a strong message to the world that we will not back down, Luria wrote.

In a post-speech statement, Republican U.S. Rep. Ben Cline did not mention Ukraine but expressed disappointment in what he said was Biden’s failure to acknowledge problems facing working families during the address.

Sullivan, the Fairfax delegate, said Americans may be feeling somewhat powerless to change the war, but need to show our support to Ukraine, whether it be through charitable giving, social media or continuing to shine a light on everything that Putin is doing.

“I think some of the strength that people of Ukraine are showing is drawn from the support that they’re getting around the world,” Sullivan said.

Senate approves measure to require officers to give reason for traffic stop

Sen. Scott Surovell – General Assembly photo

BY SANA AZEM
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

The Senate voted 21-19 to pass a bill that requires law enforcement officers to tell drivers the reason for a traffic stop.

SB 246 was introduced by  Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon. The bill gives the driver the right to be advised of the purpose of the traffic stop when the driver is asked to show proof of identification.

Under current law, a motorist is required to produce an identification card, a driver’s license or a registration card upon the request by a law enforcement officer.  

“If they [law enforcement officer] want to get your license and registration, they have to tell you why they stopped you,” Surovell said. 

Speaking in favor of the bill, Patrick Blanche, a defense attorney in Fairfax County, said that the bill is “an important thing from both the direction of law enforcement and from the perspective of the motorist.” 

It is essential for law enforcement officers to feel comfortable during a traffic stop, Blanche said. “They want the person being stopped to be compliant and cooperative,” he said.

Being provided with the reason for traffic stop could de-escalate tensions that may occur, Surovell said. 

“From the motorist point-of-view, we all feel, I think, entitled to travel from place to place without being stopped arbitrarily,” Blanche said. “When a person is pulled over without being told why they are being stopped, they have the feeling of being stopped arbitrarily.”

During the Senate hearing of the bill, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, speaking in favor of the bill, said that a person “cannot be pulled over arbitrarily in the United States. There has to be an articulated reason, and that is critical to me and to our constitutional freedom.”. 

Speaking in opposition of the bill during the Senate hearing, Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, expressed his main concern: the safety of law enforcement officers. 

“In 2001, 160 law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty by felonious assault,” Cosgrove said. “We keep putting stumbling blocks for law enforcement.”

In response to Cosgrove’s concern about the safety of law enforcement, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said that the purpose of the bill is the deescalation of a tense situation, and therefore, to make the police officer’s job easier.

“In the interest of the public for civil liberties, you have a right to know when you’re stopped why you are stopped,” Ebbin said. 

The bill awaits vote in the House Committee for Courts of Justice. 

Houses passes bill to revoke earned sentence credits 

Del. Rob Bell – General Assembly photo

BY MICHELLE PARENTE
STAFF WRITER
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

A key Senate committee is scheduled to hear a House bill that would repeal legislation that awards earned sentence credits to inmates housed in the Department of Corrections. 

Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, proposed HB 735 on Jan. 11, which acts to repeal the four-level classification system for the awarding and calculation of earned sentence credits. Sentence credits are essentially deductions from a person’s term of confinement earned through certain behaviors. Eight Republican copatrons supported the bill. 

The bill passed the House on Feb. 15, with a Republican-majority  vote of 51-49, and was rereferred with offered substitutions to Senate Finance and Appropriations on Feb. 28. 

The current state law authorizes inmates to earn a maximum of 4.5 sentence credits for each 30 days served. The legislation was adopted in the 2020 special session and is set to go into effect on July 1. HB 735 proposes to repeal this legislation and revoke the ability for inmates to earn sentence credits. 

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R- Bristol, explained the current state of sentence crediting during the Appropriations Committee hearing.

“Until the June 30 of this calendar year, inmates housed in the Department of Correction are able to earn 4.5 sentence credits for 30 days served,” he said. “Under the legislation that was adopted during the 2020 special session one, a four-tier system of enhanced sentence credits would be established beginning July 1, 2022. This bill would repeal that system.”

The bill would also account for savings during the current biennial, as over $7.5 million in funding appropriated to the Department of Corrections would no longer be necessary, O’Quinn said. 

Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, opposed the bill during the Feb. 15 reading. 

“This bill repeals giving folks who are in prison — who are doing everything that we ask them to do — a right,” he said. 

“In good faith I am going to ask the body to vote no on this bill to continue to reward folks who are doing the right thing, since we won’t give them the right to vote when they come home, at least reward their behavior while they’re in the correctional center and vote no on this bill.” 

Bell defended the bill in session. 

“Many of us believe the truth in sentencing — where the sentence was handed down by the judge or the jury or pursue into plea agreement —is the right amount, and that to retroactively reduce it as this bill did,” he said, “would undercut the truth in sentencing benefits we’ve seen, including the very low violent crime rate we have in Virginia.” 

Recap of some bills waiting for committee votes

Virginia State Capitol

BY KATE KIMMEL AND MAEVE MCCORMICK
STAFF WRITERS
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

Monday marked the beginning of the last full week that committees may act on legislation for the 2022 Virginia General Assembly Session. The Capital News Service compiled a list of hot-topic bills awaiting committee action to keep an eye on in the coming days. 

SB742, introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, would require the sealing of court records dealing with certain felony marijuana offenses and misdemeanors. It would also require business screening services that locate expunged records while conducting background checks to destroy them and follow procedures that would ensure the records are not sold or maintained.

In July 2021, all records of misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute marijuana arrests, charges, and convictions were automatically sealed in the Virginia-state police system. The court record copies, however, were not sealed, meaning charges can still be found by other people that may want to find them such as employers, landlords and background checking companies. 

“Americans with a criminal record — whether it’s marked with felonies, misdemeanors or both — can find it harder to get a job and find housing,” according to an article by the Pew Research Center.  

Surovell’s bill passed the Senate in a 21-19 vote on Feb. 15 and is awaiting action in the House Courts of Justice Committee as of Feb. 27. 

SB732, proposed by Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomac, would require localities to consider climate resilience in their comprehensive plans for the physical development of the territories under their jurisdictions. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions defines climate resilience as the ability to prepare for, recover from and adapt to deleterious effects of climate change. 

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on Feb. 11 and was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources on Feb. 21. The committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow at 9 a.m. 

SB557, introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would add a referendum to Nov. 8 election ballots regarding the removal of a section in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia that defines marriage as a union only between a man and woman. The definition would be removed through an amendment, which would also require Virginia to issue marriage licenses, recognize marriages and treat all marriages equally, regardless of the sex or gender of the couple.

“I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Chase said. “If other people choose differently, that’s their choice. But I do not believe that this should be a constitutional amendment,” Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, told The Virginia Mercury after voting against adding the question to ballots last year. 

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 14 in a 25-14 vote and was referred to the House Committee on Privileges and Elections on Feb. 23. 

HB1267, proposed by Del. Tony Wilt, R-Harrisonburg, would delay the enforcement of regulations for an Advanced Clean Cars Program by five years. Current law requires that beginning in 2025, new motor vehicles, including low and zero emissions vehicles, meet standards consistent with the federal Clean Air Act. The bill would require motor vehicles with a 2030 model year and beyond to meet those standards.  

The bill passed the House in a 52-48 vote on Feb. 15 and was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources on Feb. 16. 

SB772, introduced by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Burke, would eliminate the Board of Pharmacy patient registration requirements for patients seeking medical cannabis. A patient would still be required to obtain a written certification from a health care provider to acquire medical cannabis.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate on Feb. 14 in a 40-0 vote and was referred to the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions on Feb. 22.

SB153, introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, would eliminate the position of Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Office of the Governor. It would replace it with the Secretary of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion who would be appointed by the Governor and would assist the Governor and Governor’s Secretaries in promoting these values at the state level.

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 7 in a 21-19 vote. The House Committee on General Laws recommended that it be referred to the Committee on Appropriations on Feb. 24.

HB1203, introduced by Del. Anne Ferrell Tata, R-Virginia Beach, would establish the position of Mental Health Care Coordinator in the Virginia Department of Veterans Services to support and closely coordinate effective mental health care services for military service members, veterans and their families. 

The bill unanimously passed the House on Feb. 4 as part of a House Block Vote in a 100-0 vote. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology on March 2.

HB212, introduced by Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach, would require physicians and authorized nurse practitioners to follow fixed procedures and processes to produce a pregnant woman’s informed written consent before the performance of an abortion. These include a comprehensive medical explanation of the risks, benefits and alternatives to abortion, a statement of the probable gestational age of the fetus at the time the abortion is to be performed and materials designed to inform the woman of agencies and services available to assist her through pregnancy, upon childbirth and while the child is her dependent. Physicians or nurse practitioners would not have to receive written consent from a woman if the abortion was being performed due to a medical emergency or spontaneous miscarriage.

The bill passed the House on Feb. 15 in a 52-48 vote and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Education and Health on March 3.

HB306, introduced by Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, would exempt persons who object to vaccination on religious grounds from mandatory immunization requirements during an epidemic. This would include a parent or guardian on behalf of a child. Currently, exemptions are only made for those whose health would suffer as a result of the vaccination, as certified by a physician.

The bill passed the House on Feb. 14 in a 52-45 vote and is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Committee on Education and Health on March 3.
HB1034, introduced by Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Kinsale, would require the Department of Education to develop guidelines for the supplying of counseling services in public schools and would require local school boards to adhere to said guidelines. The bill, which lists guidelines dealing with parental consent and confidentiality, passed the House in a 52-47 vote and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Education and Health on March 3.