The Virginia Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that could reduce the penalty for assaulting a police officer from a felony to a misdemeanor. The bill would also eliminate the current six-month minimum prison sentence requirement.
Senate Bill 5032 was introduced to the Virginia Senate by Democrat Senator Scott Survell.
The bill would not issue a blanket downgrade of all assaults on law enforcement to a misdemeanor. Rather, the bill gives authority to judges and juries to decide if a specific case is worthy of a lesser penalty if the law enforcement officer did not suffer any harm as a result of the assault.
“What we’re talking about here are situations that involve much more insignificant minor touches,” Survell told the Associated Press.
However, police officers are not the only emergency personnel mentioned in this bill. According to the bill’s summary:
Eliminates the mandatory minimum term of confinement for an assault and battery committed against a judge; magistrate; law-enforcement officer; correctional officer; person directly involved in the care, treatment, or supervision of inmates; firefighter; or volunteer firefighter or any emergency medical services personnel and provides that such crime can no longer be committed as a simple assault and must result in a bodily injury.
The bill has come under severe criticism from Republicans. Conservative politicians say that this bill comes at a bad time, when public opinion of law enforcement is divided and police departments are already under incredible pressure to reform in the midst of nationwide protests and riots.
“What in the world are we doing here?” asked Virginia Senator John Cosgrove, Jr. “Have you watched the television for the last couple of weeks? Have you seen what our police officers are going through? And here we are with a bill that’s going to actually make it easier for someone to actually assault a police officer.”
Even U.S. Senators have commented on the bill.
Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas called the bill “unhinged”. In a Tweet, he accused liberal politicians of “endangering police officers and fueling the riots in our streets.”
This is unhinged.
The Democrat Virginia Senate has passed a bill that would dramatically reduce penalties for assaulting a police officer.
Liberal politicians are endangering police officers and fueling the riots in our streets.https://t.co/3bFKHVNk9G
— Tom Cotton (@TomCottonAR) August 27, 2020
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said it was “insane” and asked, “Has everyone lost their damn minds?”
The Virginia Senate passes a bill allowing assaulting a police officer to be a misdemeanor?
This is insane. Has everyone lost their damn minds? https://t.co/AB0vEyQUxw
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 28, 2020
The bill goes to the Virginia House next, where Democrats hold a 55-45 majority.