(AP) The Virginia House of Delegates has approved a budget that includes funding for a host of criminal justice and police reforms amid national unrest over racial injustice and police brutality.
The House spending plan allocates $28.4 million to pay for the package of reforms, which includes legislation to make it easier to decertify officers who commit misconduct and gives the state attorney general the authority to investigate law enforcement agencies for patterns of unconstitutional practices, including the use of excessive force. The reform package also includes legislation to establish an alert system to dispatch mental health providers along with police to help stabilize people in crisis situations.
The House approved the two-year-spending plan along partisan lines Sept. 29, with the Democratic majority praising the plan for advancing criminal justice reforms, bolstering local school systems during the coronavirus pandemic and helping people who have fallen behind on rent and utility payments because of the public health crisis.
Republicans, however, said the spending plan focused too heavily on police reforms and not enough on helping parents who are struggling to balance work while helping their children with virtual learning as many schools remain closed.
Republican Del. Kirk Cox said he views the $28 million expenditure for criminal justice reforms as “anti-law enforcement” and said many officers have become demoralized since widespread protests began in May following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I think we should not treat law enforcement in this manner,” Cox said.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert criticized Democrats for refusing to consider Republican-proposed budget amendments, including one aimed at encouraging the professionalization of local law enforcement agencies.
“House Democrats took a series of votes that make it absolutely clear that they’re on the side of criminals, not victims and law enforcement,” Gilbert said in a statement.
The House budget will now be sent to the Senate, which advanced its own spending plan out of committee last week.
The House and Senate budget plans contain numerous differences that will have to be worked out. Final approval of a new state budget may not come for a few more weeks.
The Senate’s proposal includes $18.4 million to pay for a one-time $500 bonus in December to law enforcement officials.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced last month it is predicting $2.7 billion in lost revenues over the next two years because of the pandemic. The health crisis required lawmakers to put an indefinite hold on spending increases they’d previously approved, including teacher raises and free community college tuition for some students.
-DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press