The Virginia House of Delegates voted Tuesday to eliminate qualified immunity from police facing claims of misconduct. This vote, the latest in a series of Democratic-led bills to overhaul policing, set off alarm bells among critics who say the measures will weaken law enforcement.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations, so long as the official did not violate “clearly established” law. The new legislation would eliminate this protection from law enforcement officers accused of wrongdoing, dcist.com reported.
The bill to end qualified immunity for police initially failed the House, but lawmakers reconsidered it Tuesday and narrowly passed it on a 49-45 vote. Del. Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church) explained that she switched her vote from no to yes despite “concerns about the bill” because she wanted to ensure that “Virginians who have endured violations of their civil rights by law enforcement are able to seek justice from the courts.”
Republicans did not issue a statement, but delegates voted against the bill. Speaking about the proposed law last week, Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) said it would make recruiting law enforcement officers a challenge and divert attention and resources from training.
“The good cops are all going to leave,” Miyares said. “Because if they’re going to stay in the job … the liability exposure is just going to be enormous.”
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police sounded the alarm as the bill ending qualified immunity makes its way to the other house of the legislature. “CONTACT YOUR SENATORS TO VOTE NO!” the group tweeted Tuesday.
HB5013, the bill to end qualified immunity for law enforcement in Virginia, now heads to the @VASenate for a floor vote. The Senate convenes at noon on Wed & again at noon on Thurs. Unsure when this bill will be heard. CONTACT YOUR SENATORS TO VOTE NO! https://t.co/rBDxIw50qI
— VA Chiefs of Police (@vachiefs) September 8, 2020
Tuesday’s bills were the latest in a raft of new police legislation making its way through the General Assembly.
More than 200 law enforcement officers across Colorado recently resigned or retired in the weeks after Gov. Jared Polis enacted sweeping police reforms by signing Senate Bill 217 into law on June 19, Law Officer reported.
Though it’s unclear how many of the departures are the direct result of the new law — with its stinging implications that include officers’ personal financial liability for their professional actions — interviews with chiefs of police and union leaders suggest a number of them are.