Ban on chokeholds and other Virginia criminal justice bills head to governor's desk

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Policing reform legislation that would prohibit chokeholds, require officers to intervene in colleagues’ wrongdoing and enact other criminal justice reforms will head to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk after passing both chambers of the Virginia Legislature.

The House voted Wednesday to accept the Senate’s substitute of House Bill 5069, which prohibits chokeholds and other neck restraints unless it is immediately necessary for protecting the safety of an officer or another person. Under the substitute version of the bill, an officer could receive disciplinary action if he uses a neck restraint, which can include termination, demotion or suspension.

Under the original House language, an officer who uses a chokehold would have faced Class 6 felony charges, but the substitute removed all criminal penalties from the law.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, asked her colleagues to vote in favor of the substitute because the Senate would not consider including criminal penalties but said more work needs to be done on this issue.

The House agreed to the substitute in a 60-36 vote. Removing the criminal charges helped the legislation garner some bipartisan support for the bill, which the governor is expected to sign.

A substitute version of House Bill 5029, which requires officers to intervene when another officer is unlawfully using force, will also go to the governor after the House agreed to accept the Senate substitute. The substitute version would make an officer who fails to intervene subject to similar disciplinary action.

The original language would have included various criminal penalties based on the severity of the use of force, but the House agreed to forgo that aspect of the bill because those penalties would not receive consideration from the Senate.

The bill passed the chamber, 57-39. It also gained some Republican support after the penalties were removed.

House Bill 5045, which would establish a Class 6 felony for an officer who has sex with a person in custody, also will head to the governor’s desk after both sides worked out minor differences in the bill.

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