Two passed Virginia bills on police traffic stops draw controversy

Two sister-bills passed in both the Virginia House and Senate are drawing sharp criticism from law enforcement members, concerned the bills would stop police and sheriff deputies from being able to protect the public. Some want Governor Ralph Northam not to sign.

The passed House Bill 5058, called, “Marijuana and certain traffic offenses; issuing citations, etc,” was introduced by the Virginia state delegate of Arlington, Patrick Hope.

READ MORE: Virginia Senate approves sweeping police reform

Hope tells FOX 5 there is an identical sister bill that was also introduced and passed in the state Senate. The bills change when law enforcement would be able to make traffic stops in the state.

Various people supporting the bill tell FOX 5 the purpose is to address racial profiling and prevent law enforcement from pulling over people for minor traffic reasons, like busted taillight or tinted windows. Activists groups like the ACLU and NAACP have long argued these types of stops disproportionally impact Black and Brown people.

Virginia NAACP’s Robert Barnette also says these stops can escalate and are used as a pretext to search for drugs.

“This definitely is something that has been going on for far too long,” said Barnette, who added, “especially our teenage drives. They are apt to you, you know, more so than anything else. And once that gets on your record, it’s hard to get removed.”

READ MORE: Virginia House of Delegates approves bill to end police immunity

The bill makes it so that law enforcement would no longer be able to pull over drivers for violations that include: having headlights out, for having expired registration (there’s a small grace period given), not having illuminated license plates, smoking with a minor in the vehicle, having loud exhausts – also officer also wouldn’t be allowed to search your vehicle just on the claim of smelling marijuana alone.

John Jones, Executive Director of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association is among those who feel the headlights measure could put the community at risk. Another critic mentioned the public safety concern of a drunk driver driving without their headlights in the dark when they should be on.

“To the extent they outweigh public safety, they need to be considered on an individual basis rather than lumping all of these issues into one bill and passing them and making Virginia less safe. So we’ve asked the Governor to take a look at it – slow the train down,” said Jones who says the association submitted a letter asking the Governor to not sign the bill or add an amendment to address the headlights measure.

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FOX 5’s Stephanie Ramirez spoke to the state delegate who introduced HB 5058 off-camera on Tuesday. Delegate Hope said he did not know – and does not believe – the headlight language in the bill would actually stop police from pulling over someone with both headlights off if they’re supposed to on, due to reckless driving laws in the state.

He also mentioned there is a big difference between stopping a person for driving with one headline out versus both. Hope says the measures are important to address police reform and tells FOX 5 he is working to clarify the headlight language. No information yet on how that will change just yet.