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Youngkin vetoes, amends two dozen criminal justice bills

Gov. Youngkin delivers remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers the State of the Commonwealth to the joint session of the Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday, January 10, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Most of the rejected legislation affected policing, prosecution and incarceration.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has taken action on nearly 200 pieces of General Assembly legislation in recent weeks. Late Wednesday, a news release from the governor’s office announcing he signed 36 bills into law, amended a pair of criminal justice proposals — and vetoed 22 others he said would undermine public safety in the commonwealth.

According to that release, the 22 vetoes focused on legislation that would "protect illegal immigrants, or impede law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges from holding criminals accountable and bringing them to justice.” Wednesday’s rejected bills were all carried by General Assembly Democrats and covered a vast swath of proposed changes to immigration, policing, prosecution and incarceration.

Axed proposals include:

  • HB 250, which would have helped establish nonbinding interrogation standards for law enforcement officials
  • HB 45, which would have created a prohibition on inquiries into a criminal defendant's immigration status
  • HB 776/SB 69: These bills, while not identical, each provided a pathway for long-standing immigrants or participants in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to become police officers and other kinds of law enforcement officials.

Youngkin also amended a pair of bills aimed at alternative sentencing for first-time drug offenses. HB 452 and SB 362, in the versions sent to the governor, would have expanded sentencing options for first-time felony drug convictions if a person already had other convictions on their record. Current law limits that to any person who has not been convicted of any criminal drug offense.

The governor’s amendment sends the adjusted legislation back to the statehouse for lawmaker’s reassessment during the GA’s one-day April reconvening.

New laws among the 36 bills Youngkin signed Wednesday will do things like expand civil immunity to dentists and dental hygienists and simplify licensing requirements for some physician assistants.

The governor also signed an expansion of public bodies’ abilities to host virtual government meetings under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, as well as a bill extending the deadline for sewer overflow in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to comply with federal law to 2026.

Youngkin has yet to act on some of the session’s highest-profile bills, including:

  • HB 1/SB 1: These bills increase “the minimum wage from the current rate of $12.00 per hour to $13.50 per hour effective January 1, 2025, and to $15.00 per hour effective January 1, 2026.”
  • HB 698/SB 448: This legislation establishes the retail market for cannabis products in Virginia.
  • HB 1242/SB 546: Known as Irvo's Law (after Irvo Otieno, who was killed while in custody in 2023), these identical bills carried by Richmond-area legislators unanimously passed both houses. Youngkin announced the plan to pass a law honoring Otieno in December 2023.

Unless otherwise stated, new Virginia laws go into effect July 1.

Dawnthea M. Price Lisco (dawn-TAY-uh, she/her) is the managing editor at VPM News.