NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says the upcoming special session provides an unprecedented opportunity for significant criminal justice and police reform.
“It’s undeniable, it’s documented and we cannot have different standards in Virginia based on the color of a person’s skin," Herring said in an interview with 13News Now. "People all across the state are demanding change to make it more just, more fair."
Herring said he wants his office to have the ability to conduct 'pattern and practice' investigations, responding to complaints of systemic problems in law enforcement agencies across Virginia.
“If there are repeated instances of unconstitutional policing, it would allow our office to be able to collect data, hear from residents, take a look at department’s practice to see what’s going on to allow these practices to recur and to rectify them," Herring said.
Herring said he expects bans on chokeholds and no-knock warrants to pass easily this week. He's also calling for a better system of decertification for officers who are fired for excessive force, preventing them from being rehired at other police departments.
State Republican leaders also said they support a better decertification process for fired officers, and they'd agree with expanded training for law enforcement.
However, GOP leaders said they disagreed with other criminal justice reform proposals, including cuts to police budgets and early release programs for offenders.
Instead, Minority Leader Todd Gilbert said the special session should focus on putting children back in schools this fall during the pandemic.
“We think there is a way and should be a way to get our kids back into schools safely and to do it in a responsible way, and frankly we’re doing much more harm than good keeping them out of schools," Gilbert said.
Herring said this criminal justice reform special session "will stand in stark contrast to last year" when Republicans abruptly ended a special session on gun reform in less than two hours without considering any legislation.
"The biggest change is change in leadership," Herring said of the Virginia legislature which now features Democratic majorities.
The police reform special session begins Tuesday morning. Lawmakers are also expected to discuss COVID-19 relief.