Richmond, VA – A bill eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement officers was passed by the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday, just days after it had been killed in committee.
Qualified immunity protects police officers from being sued personally if they didn’t violate established law in the course of their duties; their departments may still be sued.
Removal of the qualified immunity protections allows officers to be personally sued even when they didn’t break the law.
Under the original bill, law enforcement agencies would have automatically been held liable for actions taken by uniformed officers, even if they were off-duty at the time, WRIC reported.
The measure was modified last week so that departments would not necessarily be held liable in such situations, explained Delegate Jeffery Bourne (D-Richmond), who introduced the legislation.
The delegates voted the bill down on Sept. 4, despite the alteration, WRIC reported.
But on Tuesday, Delegate Ibraheem Samirah (D-Fairfax) revived the matter by motioning the House to reconsider the prior vote.
Just last week, Samirah voted against the bill, while Delegate Kaye Kory (D-Fairfax) abstained.
They both flipped on Tuesday, tipping the scales in favor of the measure, WRIC reported.
Two delegates abstained, resulting the bill being passed by a vote of 49-45.
In a statement released after the bill’s passage, Kory said she decided to support the measure “due to the urgent need for police reform,” but provided no specific reason for her sudden change of heart.
“Although I had concerns about the bill last Friday, I welcomed the reconsideration as an opportunity to do further work with Delegate Bourne and my House and Senate colleagues,” she wrote. “Criminal justice reform has been a very important issue for me during my years of public service, and I was proud to be part of sending this bill forward.”
Kory said she believes the measure will help government leaders “work together to find the most suitable method to ensure that Virginians who have endured violations of their civil rights by law enforcement are able to seek justice from the courts.”
Samirah said that the only reason he voted against the bill last week was because he felt the measure wouldn’t pass and wanted to be able to ask for it to be reconsidered, WWBT reported.
He said his move was a “miscalculation,” and that the bill would have actually passed last week if he had voted “yes” because one of the Republican delegates was gone that day.
The GOP caucus has unanimously opposed the measure since its introduction, WBBT reported.
“My tactic was to make sure it gets out of the House,” Samirah said.
Law enforcement groups have argued that eliminating qualified immunity will result in a slew of frivolous lawsuits and will make it even harder for departments to retain and recruit officers, The Daily Progress reported.
“All of us want to get rid of bad cops,” Delegate Jason Miyares, (R-Virginia Beach) told the paper. “The problem with this bill is it is going to have the unintended consequence of hurting good cops.”
The bill will now proceed to the Senate for a vote.