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Virginia Democrats just voted over every Republican’s objections to downgrade the legal penalty for anyone accused of assaulting a police officer.
In a vote on party lines, the Virginia Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that removes a mandatory jail sentence and allows an assault against a law enforcement officer to be treated as a misdemeanor. Though still considered a felony, if Senate Bill 5032 is signed into law, the judge or jury will be given the discretion in eliminating Virginia’s mandatory six-month minimum prison sentence.
Over vehement objection from Republicans, Virginia Democrats in the state senate voted on the legislation Wednesday, with all 21 Democrats voting in favor and 15 Republicans voting to oppose it.
According to a summary of the bill:
Eliminates the mandatory minimum term of confinement for an assault and battery committed against a judge; magistrate; law-enforcement officer; correctional officer; person directly involved in the care, treatment, or supervision of inmates; firefighter; or volunteer firefighter or any emergency medical services personnel and provides that such crime can no longer be committed as a simple assault and must result in a bodily injury.
Democrats argued that the legislation was not meant to minimize an assault on an officer but to differentiate between serious and minor assaults.
“What we’re talking about here are situations that involve much more insignificant minor touches,” Democrat Sen. Scott Surovell, who proposed the bill, said.
“It does not defund the police,” Surovell said. “It does not grant anyone the right to assault first responders. It does not make it legal to inflict injuries on any first responder. And it does not change the law of malicious wounding in the Commonwealth.”
But Republicans adamantly opposed the legislation.
“All of these bills that have been put forth, they might not be defunding the police,” Sen. Mark Peake said. “But they are damn sure demoralizing every single law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“What in the world are we doing here?” GOP state Senator John Cosgrove Jr. said on the Senate floor.
“Have you watched television in the last couple of weeks? Have you seen what our police officers are going through? Have you seen the attacks on police officers?” he asked referring to the wave of anti-police confrontations and attacks amid months of ongoing protests and demonstrations.
“Here we are with a bill that’s actually going to make it easier to actually assault a police officer,” he continued. “What we are doing here is we’re just taking away protections from our law enforcement officers who are out there day and night trying to preserve, protect and defend us.”
Republican Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. brought up the poor timing of the bill, noting the number of resignations in the last week that were turned in to the Virginia State Police.
“Because of the chaos that is out there being generated by the mob in Virginia, I just don’t think that the timing of this bill as contrasted with the substance of it is appropriate,” he told colleagues on the floor. “It is creating a perception amongst law enforcement that we are backing up and diminishing the consequences.”
GOP Sen. Ryan McDougle also slammed the bill during debate before the vote, saying it clearly sends a message to law enforcement “that we don’t care about you.”
“We’re sending a message to people that riot in our streets, a message to people that destroy our property and put our families at risk that, if encounter a law enforcement officer, you don’t need to be concerned, because if you assault them, it’s not as serious,” he added.
The next step in the process takes the bill to the House where Democrats hold a 55-45 majority.
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