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Governor makes changes to 'headlight' police reform bill

Posted at 12:05 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 12:17:38-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into law several bills passed during the most recent Virginia General Assembly special session on COVID-19 and police reform related matters.

A closely watched bill that limited the factors police could use to pull over a driver was amended by the governor after police made it clear the bill, as it passed by the General Assembly, would hinder efforts to keep the roads safe for all drivers.

Senate Bill 5029 aimed to reform the manner in which police stop drivers and conduct searches after smelling marijuana in vehicles.

The bill would also prohibit police from pulling over drivers based solely on other factors like driving without a light on your license plate, driving with defective equipment, and driving without brake lights.

The bill, according to Chesterfield Police Chief Jeffrey Katz, would also prohibit police from pulling over drivers who are driving at night without headlights.

After raising his concern, Governor Northam amended the bill as follows:

House Bill 5058 [r20.rs6.net] (Delegate Hope) and Senate Bill 5029 [r20.rs6.net] (Senator Lucas) prohibit law enforcement from initiating traffic stops in certain instances. Governor Northam amended this legislation to ensure law enforcement can initiate a traffic stop when an individual is driving at night without the use of both headlights and/or without the use of both brake lights.

The amended bill, which was part of sweeping police reform voted on during the 2020 special General Assembly session following a summer of protests and social unrest, now goes back to state lawmakers for consideration.

“I am proud to sign new laws that strengthen our COVID-19 response efforts and make our criminal system more equitable,” Governor Northam in a statement. “I am grateful to legislators for their hard work this session, and look forward to signing more critically important legislation in the coming days.”

The governor's office released the following information on his actions:

Governor Northam signed the following laws to support COVID-19 response and recovery efforts:

  • Senate Bill 5039 [r20.rs6.net] (Senator Marsden) establishes a formal program for the purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment during a public health threat.
  • House Bill 5087 [r20.rs6.net] (Delegate Tran) extends the date by which the Virginia Employment Commission is required to establish and implement a short-time compensation program and removes the program’s sunset clause.
  • Senate Bill 5083 [r20.rs6.net] (Senator McClellan) requires Virginia school boards to publicly post their plans and strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
  • Senate Bill 5017 [r20.rs6.net] (Senator Boysko) grants the Commonwealth the ability to establish and enforce health standards at local correctional facilities used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other federal agencies.

Governor Northam signed the following laws to reform criminal justice and policing:

  • House Bill 5098 [r20.rs6.net] (Delegate Askew) increases the penalty for falsely summoning or giving false reports to law enforcement officers due to an individual’s race, religious conviction, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, or national origin.

Governor Northam proposed changes to the following bills:

  • House Bill 5115 [r20.rs6.net] (Delegate Price) expands eviction protections for Virginians who experienced a loss of wages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Northam added an emergency clause to make this legislation effective immediately upon passage.
  • House Bill 5058 [r20.rs6.net] (Delegate Hope) and Senate Bill 5029 [r20.rs6.net] (Senator Lucas) prohibit law enforcement from initiating traffic stops in certain instances. Governor Northam amended this legislation to ensure law enforcement can initiate a traffic stop when an individual is driving at night without the use of both headlights and/or without the use of both brake lights.