(The Center Square) – A ban on no-knock search warrants, reform on civilian oversight boards and several other criminal justice reform bills have passed both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly and will head to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for his signature.
The bills passed the General Assembly after a joint conference committee between House and Senate lawmakers to hash out differences in approach. The governor is expected to sign the bills.
House Bill 5099 would require police to clearly and audibly identify themselves and their authority before executing a search warrant, which would prohibit judges from authorizing no-knock warrants that currently allow police to enter homes unannounced. Police also would have to be clearly recognizable as uniformed law enforcement officers.
Police would be required to provide the owner with the search warrant or give it to another occupant if the owner is not present. If no one is present, the officer would have to leave a copy of the warrant at the location.
Search warrants would have to be executed in the daytime unless a judge approves a nighttime or early morning raid. If a judge is not available, police would be allowed to receive authorization for such a warrant by a magistrate. The daytime provision would not apply to search warrants for the withdrawal of blood.
House lawmakers sought to include a provision that would require police to wait 30 seconds after identifying themselves before entering a location, but this provision was removed during House-Senate negotiations. The bill would apply only to search warrants and will not apply to other warrants or police activities.
Democrats pushed this legislation primarily in response to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. Police shot and killed her after her boyfriend opened fire on police because he said he believed they were intruders. The bill received substantial pushback from Republicans who said no-knock search warrants are used only in circumstances when they are necessary and warned the bill would remove options for police.
Senate Bill 5035 and House Bill 5055 would reform civilian oversight boards of police departments by allowing localities to give these boards greater authority, including subpoena power, the ability to conduct hearings and the right to make disciplinary decisions.
House Democrats sought to make civilian review boards mandatory on local governments, but this provision was removed in the negotiations with the Senate. Under the compromise bills, local governments can choose to establish these boards and whether to provide them with this additional authority.
Senate Bill 5030 and House Bill 5049, which passed both chambers, would prohibit police departments from purchasing military-grade property unless they receive a waiver from the Department of Criminal Justice Services, including grenade launchers, weaponized drones, bayonets and firearms or ammunition .50 calibers or higher. The banned property would not include Humvees, which are sometimes used by police for search and rescue.
House Bill 5148, which would expand the earned sentence credits program, also passed both chambers. House Bill 5043 and Senate Bill 5038, which would establish more mental health services in police departments, passed the House, but was delayed in the Senate after some Republicans requested time to look over the bills.
Legislation that would establish an automatic expungement for certain crimes went to a joint House-Senate conference committee, but an agreed-upon bill has not yet gone to the chambers for a vote. Lawmakers had some disagreements over the specific crimes that should receive an automatic expungement.