Judges, Bail, Heroes and Budgets

February 3, 2023

It has been a very busy two weeks here at the General Assembly as we prepare for Crossover (the official halfway point of session) next week.

Yesterday, on a party line vote, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to kill two public safety bills that I patroned. The first would have established a criminal penalty for individuals who intend to intimidate a judge by picketing or parading near the home of that judge.

Threats against judges are up 400% since 2016, many of which were motivated by political extremism. In 2022, an armed man attempted to kidnap or murder Brett Kavanaugh and his family. In 2020, a federal judge’s son was killed and her husband was seriously wounded after a man targeted them in their own home.

Our judges are critical to our democracy and we depend on them to administer justice by applying the law, not out of fear or intimidation. Moreover, there is just no excuse for the deliberate efforts of political extremists whether from the right or the left to target or intimidate the families of these public servants.

Another bill killed, on a party line vote by Senate Democrats, was one that would have established judicial presumption that those arrested for rape, robbery, or murder would not be released on bail. As a part of the Democrats’ so called “social-justice reforms” the past few years, progressives in the Virginia House and Senate removed all presumptions against bail that existed in our code, even for the worst of the worst — those accused of rape, robbery, or murder.

This reckless “reform” has put dangerous offenders back on the street where they are free to reoffend while awaiting trial. Such was the case in the tragic murder of Karla Dominguez in Alexandria after her accused rapist was released on bond he murdered her.

Look, I get it. It’s an election year and Senate Democrats are looking to solidify support from their ultra-liberal base voters who often push policies that overlook the safety of families across the Commonwealth for the sake of so-called social justice. What they fail to recognize is that they are applying “Social-Justice” in ways that ignore victims — and many of these victims are persons of color.

I will continue to stand up for the safety of neighborhoods, communities and families, election year or not.

On a more positive note, my SB 1220 to  name the westbound bridge on Rt. 211 in Luray after fallen Stanley Police Officer Dominick ‘Nick’ J. Winum unanimously reported from the Senate Transportation Committee.  Officer Winum was killed in the line of duty almost two years ago while selflessly protecting members of his community.  He was a former State Trooper and one of his favorite spots to sit while on patrol was on the westbound side of Rt. 211 outside Luray to overlook the Shenandoah River and the scenic views of the Valley.  It is only fitting that this bridge be named in honor of Officer Winum. SB 1220 will be on the Senate Floor Monday for final passage.

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic incident at Bridgewater College. The loss of Officers John Painter and J.J. Jefferson still stings our community. After their death, it came to light that their families were not eligible for any death benefits as police officers because private college police departments were not eligible to enroll in the state administered Line of Duty Act (LODA.)  I am grateful that Governor Youngkin offered a budget amendment last year providing both families with the death benefit that would have been available to any other law enforcement office who died in the line of duty. I strongly suspect that this was an inadvertent oversight that escaped notice until the death of two officers. I promised the Governor and private colleges last year that I would introduce legislation this year to make them eligible to enroll in this program. If a private college elects to enroll, they would be required to pay premiums for participation, so they will pay their own way.

I am pleased to report that this legislation, SB 1228 passed the Senate unanimously and now makes its way to the House. With the advancement of my bill, we are making progress in our efforts to do right by law enforcement officers and their families.

This weekend, the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees will release their respective packages of amendments to the 2022-2024 budget.  Both chambers will approve their versions of the budget on February 9 and negotiations over the different versions will begin shortly thereafter. Ultimately, it will be those negotiations that determine how much tax relief Virginians will receive this year.  Presumably, the House version will incorporate most provisions of Governor Youngkin’s tax relief plan and the Senate version will not.

I submitted a budget amendment seeking $235M to expedite safety improvements along the I-81 Corridor. Last year I-64 received double that amount for widening projects near Williamsburg..  Just this week, yet another serious crash on 81 resulted in multiple fatalities. 

You can look here for a full list of the bills I am carrying this session.  I will continue to provide updates on significant developments during the course of Session. If you have opinions (pro or con), questions or concerns about any legislation before the General Assembly, please do not hesitate to share those with me. You can always reach me by email at [email protected] and my office can be reached at either 804-698-7526 (Richmond Office) or 540-437-1451 (Harrisonburg District Office.)  Should you be in Richmond at any point during the General Assembly Session, please stop by my office (Room 502), say hello, and let us know if we can do anything for you during your visit.

I always enjoy visiting and meeting with groups and constituents from home. The last two weeks I’ve had the pleasure to visit with Old Dominion Association of Christian Schools students, Blue Ridge Beverage Company, JMU President Jon Alger, Pro-Life Advocates, Page County Sheriff Chad Cubbage and his Deputy Sheriffs, Brain Injury Connections of the Shenandoah Valley, JMU Victim Assistance program, and local dentists as part of Virginia Dental Association Day.