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VA Dems Look to Lessen Penalty for Executive Order Violations

photo of the virginia sgate capitol
FILE PHOTO: Craig Carper/VPM

Senate Democrats in Virginia are looking to reduce the penalty for violating a governor’s executive order. 

Currently, violating an executive order, like the ones on mask-wearing and social distancing for public-facing employees, is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Gov.  Ralph Northam’s administration has mostly relied on pulling a business’ health permit to enforce coronavirus restrictions, but at least one person - a pastor in the Eastern Shore - did face a criminal charge. A bill from Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville) would give law enforcement the option of a fine of up to $500 for violating an executive order.

At a Senate committee meeting Monday, Deeds said his bill would provide an alternative to harsher penalties.

“A Class 1 misdemeanor penalty is one of the most severe among neighboring states, but that’s all the law gives the governor right now for a violation of his executive order,” Deeds told the General Laws and Technology Committee.

The bill was initially rejected last week on a 7-7 tied vote, but was reconsidered Monday morning. On the second vote, the bill was approved 9-5, with Sen. Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) switching his vote. Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Montross) missed the previous meeting, but voted ‘Yes’ on Monday.

The 9-5 vote was mostly along party lines, with Democrats in favor of Deeds’ bill. Senate Republicans, who have been critical of Northam’s executive orders, mostly opposed it.

After Monday’s vote, the proposal to lessen penalties for violating an executive order will head to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.


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