The Avoli Report
DELEGATE G. JOHN AVOLI
DELEGATE G. JOHN AVOLI
2020 SPECIAL SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS ON THE NOVEMBER BALLOT
On the ballot in November’s Presidential Election, you will have the opportunity to vote for your choice of President and Vice President, one of our two US Senate members, and your member in the US House of Representatives. All Virginians will see two questions regarding amendments to the Constitution of the Commonwealth to be decided on a majority vote.
Ballot Question #1 aims to change the way legislative districts are drawn in Virginia. Historically, districts are drawn based on information from the US Census every ten years. Currently, the majority party of the Commonwealth’s legislature has the privilege to choose districts that best suit their needs as they try to maintain legislative power for years to come. This is how districts have become so wildly gerrymandered: legislators choose what areas they want to represent rather than being chosen by the people who live in different parts of Virginia. After passing a majority Republican House and Senate in 2019 as well as a majority Democrat House and Senate in 2020, you will have the power to vote on the ballot initiative in November’s elections. Politicians and political parties have drawn the legislative districts for centuries, slicing and dicing us into red and blue districts. A “Yes” vote on Amendment #1 will end the backroom deals where politicians are looking out for their seats rather than looking out for the best interests of the citizens they represent. A “Yes” vote on Amendment #1 brings transparency and accountability to the redistricting process. It mandates citizens have a seat at the table, that voters are empowered to actually choose their legislator and not the other way around. Communities and cultures will be respected, not divided for the greatest political reward. A “Yes” vote on Amendment #1 will create a balanced commission of legislators, experts, and citizens. Instead of the current majority party drawing the lines based on partisan ambition, your “Yes” vote on Amendment #1 will inject transparency and fairness into the equation. Republicans, Democrats, and – most importantly – the citizens will work together on the mapping of the districts. In our polarized world, “bi-partisan” has become a dirty word and “compromise” has been falsely redefined as a loss. In reality, a “Yes” vote on Amendment #1 achieves a fair and thoughtful process to end partisan gerrymandering. This provides for a thorough legal process to encourage compromise and for all sides to work together to achieve a fair voting map. Virginians have the right to choose their legislators rather than politicians choosing their constituents. A “Yes” vote on Amendment #1 provides the greatest voice for people of our Commonwealth. Please join me by voting YES on Amendment #1 to bring fairness and equality to our electoral process. Maps matter, support Amendment #1 to draw lines that benefit you the voter, rather than a political party.
Ballot Question #2 aims to provide tax relief for Virginian veterans of war who sustained a 100% service-related injury. A “Yes” vote on Amendment #2 will allow service-injured veterans in Virginia to receive tax deductions on any vehicles they own. I ask that you support our veterans by voting “Yes” on Amendment #2.
Dear friends and constituents of the 20th District, We have reached the conclusion of the Governor’s 2020 Special Session of the General Assembly. Governor Northam called upon legislators to meet for a special session to address the shortfalls of the budget we passed during the 2020 Regular Session due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to addressing the budget, police reform became a major focus of the special session after the nationwide riots and protests in response to George Floyd’s death. In this special edition of the Avoli Report, I will outline for you the major bills passed by the General Assemble that are set to become new laws in Virginia upon Governor Northam’s signature. As we gear up to head into the 2021 Regular Session, I am open to hearing your ideas for new legislation that you believe will help our Commonwealth. Please email your ideas to me at DelJAvoli@house.virginia.gov to discuss legislative bills. I ask that you call my Legislative Aide, Travis Smiley, at (540) 200-8112 to schedule a meeting or have your issues or concerns addressed.
Criminal Justice Reform
Republicans know that law enforcement is not perfect, and Virginia needs to enact certain reforms. But reforms need to be made with common sense as a part of the equation. Unfortunately, House Democrats refused to listen and instead decided to listen to the loudest extreme of their base, BLM and Antifa “protesters” who rioted across our Commonwealth and our nation all summer. Their reform package completely ignored common sense, thoughtful reform. Our priority was the get bad law enforcement officers off their forces and keep them from being able to be hired by another department to avoid being fired. HB 5133, proposed by Delegate Rob Bell, proposed decertification for any officer fired for abuse of power or dishonesty. I proposed two bills, HB’s 5136 and 5137, that would help achieve these goals. HB 5136 sought to create statewide professional standards of conduct by which to decertify fired officers under Delegate Bell’s HB 5133. HB 5137 would have required all local and state law enforcement agencies to obtain and maintain accreditation by the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission to ensure that sheriff’s and police departments were held to minimum standards of performance. None of these bills even received a hearing by the Democrat-led committees they were referred to. Instead, Democrats made it clear from the start that they would not be passing any reform legislation introduced by Republicans and only pass their extreme versions of reform that can be more accurately described as anti-police bills.
HB 5049 aims to demilitarize police departments by prohibiting the acquisition and use of certain weapons by law enforcement agencies. The bill was designed to take away non-lethal tools and tactics. Fortunately, the process by which we examine bills worked in favor of law and order by eliminating the language banning the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. As it passed, police departments can no longer acquire MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles), which are most-commonly used by first responders in flood rescue operations. This bill makes first responders and the community less safe in the event that someone is stranded in a flood.
HB 5058 makes it illegal for police to stop a driver for operating a vehicle without a license plate light, with defective and unsafe equipment, or without brake lights. This means that it will now be legal to drive at night without headlights or brake lights, and any evidence discovered or obtained in the search of a vehicle pulled over for such a previous violation will be deemed inadmissible in court. Officers are now also prohibited from searching a vehicle based on detectable marijuana odor. Drivers may now legally drive at night without working brake lights and headlights while high on marijuana and police can do nothing to stop them. Additionally, police are no longer able to stop a vehicle for an expired safety inspection or registration sticker until the fourth month after the original expiration date. This bill makes it extraordinarily less safe for law-abiding citizens to use our roads.
HB 5099 prohibits any law enforcement officer from seeking, executing, or participating in the execution of a no-knock search warrant. No-knock search warrants are exceedingly rare in Virginia. Law enforcement representatives lobbying against the passage of this bill stated that these warrants are rarely used and protect both a suspect AND law enforcement from harm. Police will now be required to announce their presence before serving search warrants – only in the daytime – giving suspects time to dispose of evidence or, worse, arm themselves for a fight with officers. Make no mistake, HB 5099 will lead to more armed confrontations between law enforcement agents executing search warrants and the suspects they are tasked with searching, while greatly increasing the likelihood of deadly outcomes.
HB 5148 establishes a system by which criminals may shorten their sentences based solely on how much time they have already served. No need for good behavior, violent criminals may now earn time-served credits simply for serving portions of the time they were sentenced to serve.
Virginia has a low crime rate relative to other states, and our recidivism rate is the lowest in the nation. The reason for this: we have a system for making sure our most dangerous criminals are locked up for the prescribed amount of time works. This bill attacks Virginia’s Truth-in-Sentencing laws and weakens our effective system by allowing dangerous people to return to public life faster than ever.
SB 5007 eliminates the system by which a jury of one’s peers determines the punishment for a convicted criminal. For 224 years of legal practice in Virginia, juries have served as the conscience of our communities. Until this bill is signed by Governor Northam, if a defendant chooses a jury trial, the jury is charged with determining guilt and sentencing the guilty party accordingly. Now, the defendant will be able to choose a jury trial, but sentencing will be determined by the Court itself. This bill removes the community – a jury of one’s peers – from determining how much time a crime is worth. This law bears an immense monetary cost and will jam our courts with cases as more criminals choose to take their chances with a jury knowing they will not be sentenced by that jury.
SB 5032 thankfully failed at the Committee level during Special Session. However, we expect to see it return in January during the 2021 Regular Session. This bill would have reduced the penalty for assault on a police officer to a misdemeanor, drastically reducing the penalty for the crime. Law enforcement and millions of Virginians broadly condemned the bill. It would have changed the law to mean that assaulting a police officer would only carry a six-month mandatory minimum sentence ONLY IF the officer were injured. All other attacks would be reduced to misdemeanors. Our law enforcement officers need all the protection we can provide them because they serve and protect the rest of us. Protection of police officers includes the knowledge that if someone attacks them, that person is likely to face serious consequences. Again, this bill failed to pass for now, but I will keep you updated as we expect to see the bill come up for another vote in the new year.
Removal of Monuments in the Old House Chamber
At the beginning of the Special Session, Speaker of the House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn ordered the removal of many historical markers, statues, paintings, and monuments from the Old House Chamber. We were not told about the decision nor did we have any ability to discuss the process by which the removal and relocation of these historic Virginian artifacts would take place. In early October, Speaker Filler-Corn was found to be in violation of Virginia’s FOIA process regarding her secretive order and the subsequent removal of items. The fact that a private citizen had to take this matter to court shows just how much Democrats want to hide their actions from the public. The plaintiff simply sought to know how much taxpayer money was spent on the midnight raid. Speaker Filler-Corn’s office said there were no documents related to the event. The judge in Richmond was incredulous at the claim. How can a state official spent $83,000 and not generate any paperwork? Once again, we see that Democrats have chosen to be the party against transparency. Speaker Filler-Corn has since been fined for her violation of the FOIA request.
House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued the following statement on the matter:
“When leaders take actions they should be willing to own them. All the Speaker had to do was answer truthfully as to how much taxpayer money was spent on her midnight raid on the Old House Chamber. Instead, she chose to say the documentation did not exist. It’s disappointing, but not surprising after what we’ve seen this session, that Democrats have decided to be the party of obfuscation rather than transparency.”
State Budget Action
Nearly two months into the Special Session, we finally began to address the Commonwealth’s $2.7 billion budget shortfall. This shortfall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the reason why Governor Northam called on us to meet for a Special Session. While House and Senate Democrats have delayed sending the revised budget to the Governor due to disagreements about budget language pending the outcome of the ballot question on forming a bipartisan redistricting commission, the budget is ready to be signed once sent to Governor Northam’s desk. After witnessing the Democrats demonize law enforcement in the multitude of bills they sponsored, Republicans gave Democrats ample opportunity to redeem themselves in the form of common-sense amendments to police funding in the budget. Democrats responded to this opportunity by shutting down debate to defeat Republican suggestions, siding with criminals over law enforcement and victims of crime in the process.
- Despite finding more than $250 million in new funding for programs — including tens of millions to make life harder for law enforcement — Democrats voted to defund our local police departments by $8.6 million (482.20 #2h).
- They voted to block a pay increase for Sheriff’s deputies and regional jail employees (477 #2h).
- After spending nearly two months attacking law enforcement and calling for reform, Democrats turned their nose up at a plan — Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission Accreditation Grant Fund — that would actually help smaller agencies improve (403 #1h).
- This initiative would help smaller police departments further professionalize and gain accreditation.
- After months of reporting showing that police unions are a key impediment to getting bad cops off the street, Democrats shot down Republican efforts to ensure that Virginia’s nascent police unions don’t go down the same road (4-0.01 #3h).
- They voted to let police unions negotiate escape hatches for bad apples who abuse their authority.
- Democrats also showed their true colors regarding the Virginia Parole Board, choosing to continue in the cover-up of serious problems at that agency.
- They voted to allow killers who refuse to tell police where they dumped the bodies of their victims to be released on parole, while victims’ families have no closure (429 #1h).
- They voted to allow the parole board to continue releasing violent felons while keeping their votes secret (429 #2h).
- Democrats also showed they were more interested in their bank accounts than the people they represent — voting down a proposal to cut their own “expenses” for virtual sessions (1 #1h).
- They voted to keep receiving a $210 ‘expense payment’ for commuting from their bedroom to their couches for virtual sessions.
- Democrats also turned their back on parents and students struggling with virtual education (479.10 #1h).
- Despite the majority of classrooms in Virginia being virtual, Democrats allowed less than 10 minutes of discussion of this critical issue. They voted to block parents from accessing $100 million in unspent Federal CARES Act funding to help students and families adjust to virtual learning.
- Even worse, they voted to let anonymous strangers answer your children’s questions about sex and sexuality — without any parental involvement (301 #1h).
While no firearm legislation was heard during the Special Session, here is a reminder of what passed in the 2020 Regular Session of the General Assembly, which are now law in Virginia as of July 1, 2020.
HB 2 requires a background check for any firearm transfer and directs the Department of State Police (the Department) to establish a process for transferors to obtain such a check from licensed firearms dealers. A transferor who sells a firearm to another person without obtaining the required background check is guilty of a Class 6 felony. The bill also provides that a transferee who receives a firearm from another person without obtaining the required background check is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill exempts transfers (i) between immediate family members; (ii) that occur by operation of law; (iii) by the executor or administrator of an estate or by the trustee of a testamentary trust; (iv) at firearms shows in accordance with law; (v) that are part of a buy-back or give-back program; (vi) of antique firearms; (vii) that occur at a shooting range, shooting gallery, or any other area designed for the purpose of target shooting, for use during target practice, a firearms safety or training course or class, a shooting competition, or any similar lawful activity; or (viii) that are temporary transfers that (a) occur within the continuous presence of the owner of the firearm or (b) are necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. The bill removes the provision that makes background checks of prospective purchasers or transferees at firearms shows voluntary.
HB 9 requires you to report a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours of discovering the loss or theft. Failure to comply will result in a civil penalty carrying a fine of up to $250 per offense. The bill provides that a person who, in good faith, reports the loss or theft is immune from criminal or civil liability for acts or omissions that result from the loss or theft.
HB 421 allows any locality by ordinance to prohibit the possession or carrying of firearms and ammunition within its jurisdiction. This means you must be aware of different gun laws all over the state if you plan on traveling with a firearm or transporting firearms for hunting trips. This bill is a huge burden to law-abiding gun owners. The 20th District alone could have 5 different sets of laws governing firearms between Highland and Nelson Counties.
HB 674 imposes “red flag” laws, allowing the courts to order gun confiscation based on anonymous testimony of another citizen. The bill allows the court to issue the “red flag” order for up to 180 days. Persons subject to such a court order are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm and are disqualified from having a concealed handgun permit. This bill alone violates your protections under the Second, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments of the US Constitution.
HB 812 prohibits any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period and makes such an offense a Class 1 misdemeanor. The bill exempts from this provision (i) persons who have been issued a certificate by the Department of State Police under certain circumstances and with an enhanced background check, (ii) law-enforcement agencies and officers, (iii) state and local correctional facilities, (iv) licensed private security companies, (v) persons whose handgun has been stolen or irretrievably lost or who are trading in a handgun, and (vi) purchases of antique firearms.
HB 1083 increases the penalty for any person who recklessly leaves a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 14 from a Class 3 to a Class 1 misdemeanor.