Northam signs bills on COVID-19, criminal justice
Governor signed 16 bills from special session into law
Gov. Ralph Northam signed 16 bills from the General Assembly’s fall special session into law on Wednesday, many of which were related to the COVID-19 pandemic and criminal justice reforms. Northam also proposed changes to five bills.
“I am proud to sign new laws that strengthen our COVID-19 response efforts and make our criminal system more equitable,” said 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.”
Police reform measures that Northam signed into law include House Bill 5098 (Del. Alex Q. Askew, D-Virginia Beach), which 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. Another measure allows the state attorney general to open investigations related to a suspected “pattern or practice” of misconduct among law enforcement officers.
Here’s a look at some of the other bills Northam signed, as well as some of the governor’s proposed legislative changes:
Penalty for violating an executive order: House Bill 5093 (Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax) and Senate Bill 5117 (state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville) allows the state judicial system the option of imposing a $500 civil penalty for violations of a governor’s executive order, such as not following the governor’s pandemic directives like wearing a mask in public places. Currently, the only penalty for such a violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine in the state.
Price gouging: House Bill 5047 (Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax) strengthens Virginia’s anti-price gouging laws during declared states of emergency. Previously, the law prohibiting price gouging only applied to manufacturers or distributors who are advertising goods or services to consumers. This expands the scope to apply to any manufacturer or distributor who is selling necessary goods at unconscionable prices during a declared state of emergency. The new legislation builds in an exemption for sellers of agricultural goods or services who do not advertise goods or services.
Personal protective equipment: Senate Bill 5039 (state Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax) establishes a formal program for the purchase and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) during a public health threat. During a state of emergency related to a communicable disease, the governor may purchase PPE for private, nongovernmental entities and distribute the PPE to such entities.
Employment sunset provisions: House Bill 5087 (Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax) repeals two sunset provisions enacted during the General Assembly’s 2020 regular session that, among other things, established a short-time compensation program that provides employers with the option of reducing the hours worked by employees while permitting the employees whose hours are reduced to receive partial compensation for lost wages. The bill also extends the date by which the Virginia Employment Commission is required to establish and implement such short-time compensation program from January 1, 2021, to January 1, 2022.
Telemedicine services: House Bill 5046 (Del. Dawn Adams, D-Richmond) and Senate Bill 5080 (state Sen. George Barker, D-Alexandria) expand Medicaid coverage of telemedicine care. Northam added an emergency clause to make this legislation effective immediately upon passage.
Eviction protection: House Bill 5115 (Del. Marcia “Cia” Price, D-Newport News) expands eviction protections for Virginians who experienced a loss of wages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Northam added an emergency clause to make this legislation effective immediately upon passage.
A full list of legislation signed by Northam during the special session can be found on the state’s Legislative Information System website.