Push to repeal qualified immunity voted down in Virginia General Assembly

Capitol Connection

Virginia State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, gestures during debate during the Virginia Senate Special Session in the temporary Senate chambers at the Science Museum of Virginia Wednesday Aug. 19, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A last-ditch effort to repeal qualified immunity during this year’s Virginia General Assembly session fell short Monday after a Senate committee rejected a measure that would have made it easier to sue over misconduct claims against police officers and collect damages in state court.

The Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee killed legislation from state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) on a bipartisan vote Monday, days after a similar, broader bill was tabled by a House subcommittee for further review.

On Friday, the Virginia House Courts of Justice Civil Subcommittee approved a recommendation to table a bill from Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) creating a civil action that would have allowed residents to seek damages in lawsuits alleging “the deprivation of a person’s rights by a law-enforcement officer.”

The legislation, which would have prohibited an officer from using sovereign or qualified immunity as a defense in court, was set aside to be studied by the Virginia Crime Commission.

Sen. Surovell’s measure sought to allow Virginians to pursue lawsuits and damages following alleged incidents of officer’s violating the state’s newly passed laws, including the chokehold ban, but required that the localities that hired the officer be liable. The Judiciary Committee voted down the legislation, promising to eventually have a Senate subcommittee study the effort to eliminate qualified immunity.

Critics of the legislation argue that any such effort would hinder local departments from hiring additional officers, an issue that law enforcement advocacy groups says is widespread in Virginia.

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