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GOP kills Virginia lawmaker’s attempt to ban Jan. 6 rioters from public positions

People in various clothes fight with people in matching yellow uniforms over a crowd control fence
Julio Cortez
Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington.

HB 1562 would have gone further than existing law by making the civil office bans permanent.

Virginia lawmakers never got a chance to vote on a bill that would have barred people convicted of participating in an insurrection from “positions of public trust” including teaching, law enforcement and public office.

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates didn’t give a hearing to the bill from Del. Dan Helmer (D–Fairfax) ahead of Monday’s procedural deadline, effectively killing it.

In an interview, Helmer argued the lack of hearing was proof that GOP lawmakers “are continuing to seek to appeal to an extremist base.”

In a brief interview Monday, Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert said he wasn’t familiar with the bill.

“You'd have to tell me more about it; I don't really know much about it,” Gilbert said. “I forget how many bills we have to follow, but that one I don’t know much about.”

Gilbert’s spokesperson, Garren Shipley, noted in an email that people convicted of felonies are already barred from a range of jobs, including law enforcement, teaching and local or state office, though the governor can restore people’s civil rights. Shipley didn’t respond to questions about why the bill didn’t get a hearing.

Helmer said his bill would have gone further than current law by making the bans permanent if someone is convicted of insurrection under state or federal law, or of similar offenses in other states and Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Army Reserve veteran’s bill also would have applied to a broader range of public positions than existing code, such as public sector jobs involving “monetary responsibilities” and public health workers, according to University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who reviewed the bill.

Helmer said if Republicans had issues with his bill, they could have aired them in committee.

“Instead, they refused to take a position on what happened at the [U.S.] Capitol on January 6, and I don't think voters are gonna forget in November,” Helmer said. All 140 seats of the General Assembly are up for re-election this fall.

Lawmakers in at least three states have introduced similar bills, according to the Associated Press.

Nine people died in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, including two Metropolitan Police officers who died by suicide months after the attack.

It’s not clear how many people would have been affected by Helmer’s proposal. About 988 people have faced charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021 riot so far, according to NPR, and authorities continue to file new charges every week. But only four have been convicted of seditious conspiracy, the rarest and most serious charge connected to the events at the U.S. Capitol.

A substitute that Helmer planned to introduce would have specifically named which federal laws were covered, including ones related to insurrection, seditious conspiracy, interrupting official proceedings and destroying or altering official documents. Nearly 300 people involved in Jan. 6 riots faced charges of "corruptly obstructing, influencing or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so," according to USA Today.

Three GOP delegates have publicly said they attended the rally leading up to the Jan. 6 riot: Del. John McGuire (R–Goochland), Del. Dave LaRock (R–Loudoun), Del. Marie March (R–Floyd). All three said they did not participate in the riot that followed.

A Republican-led House subcommittee quashed a separate bill from Del. Rip Sullivan (D–Fairfax) that would have required electors — individuals chosen to represent their political party in the Electoral College — to choose the presidential and vice presidential candidates nominated by their party. In a Feb. 1 meeting, Sullivan said the bill had “very little to do with the 2020 election” and pointed to a series of episodes from 1796 to 1972 involving “faithless electors.”

But Del. Wren Williams (R–Patrick), a lawyer who helped former President Donald Trump unsuccessfully mount legal challenges to the 2020 election in Wisconsin, argued electors should be given more latitude.

“We’re talking about people breaking their oath,” Williams said. “But this is a representative democracy. And we expect people to vote their conscience.”

Del. Candi Mundon King (D–Prince William) was unpersuaded.

“Your conscience does not supersede the law,” she said. “It does not supersede what you agree to.”

The bill went down in a 5-3 party line vote.

This story is powered by the 2023 People's Agenda.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.