Public Comments for: HB609 - Civil action for the deprivation of rights; duties and liabilities of certain employers.
Last Name: Reyes Organization: LEAP Locality: Westmoreland County

Comments Document

Dear Members of the Committee, Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. As a Virginia resident and former police chief, I am writing to express my support for HB 609. This bill enables citizens to bring lawsuits when their constitutional rights are violated by employees who are not cut out for the job. During my 25 years of service in law enforcement, in addition to being a chief, I served as a patrol officer and as a security forces supervisor with the United States Air Force. I learned that police accountability plays a vital role in building community trust and safety. When there is a lack of police accountability, we lose legitimacy in the eyes of those we serve, making community members less likely to cooperate with us. To restore this trust and strengthen relationships with the communities we serve, we need to prioritize governmental accountability. To prevent and solve a crime, police need community members to cooperate and provide information about what they have witnessed. Folks will only cooperate if they trust us. Trust-building is not an optional, feel-good extracurricular activity for police, it is a core responsibility with a direct link to public safety. The doctrine of sovereign immunity is derived from the federal doctrine of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity holds the state and its agencies harmless unless the officer’s action has already been clearly established as a constitutional violation in that court’s jurisdiction. For example, in Jessop v City of Fresno, police officers stole money, and the victims sued. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the lawsuit on qualified immunity grounds because no previous Ninth Circuit case specifically said that police stealing from plaintiffs is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. When such cases are dismissed, the media firestorm has a devastating impact on public trust in the justice system. Qualified immunity is deeply unpopular. Two-thirds of Americans say that civilians need to have the power to sue police officers in order to hold them accountable for misconduct and excessive use of force, even if that makes police work more difficult. In fact, we believe it will make police work easier by helping us rebuild community trust. Virginia cannot fix a federal issue, but state legislators have proposed legislation that would protect Virginia residents’ constitutional rights through state court. House Bill 609 would prevent the government from escaping responsibility by invoking sovereign immunity. The bill gives Virginians the right to sue the state or local government for harms caused by negligent hiring, supervision, training, or retention. The bottom line is that House Bill 609 would not bring open season upon law enforcement. It would simply allow judges to hear the facts of the most egregious cases, which are currently causing the public perception that police are above the law. By doing so, it would strengthen the ties between police and the people we swore an oath to protect and serve. Thank you for considering this important issue. Chief Rob Reyes (Fmr.) U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Police Department Erie, PA Resident of Westmoreland County, VA

Last Name: DeBoard Organization: Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) Locality: Herndon, VA

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police oppose HB 609. Public officials deserve the right to be protected in the performance of their duties, when they are acting reasonably and within law. This is especially important in the case of law enforcement, who are continually asked to make split second decisions that can have life altering impacts. There already exists avenues for civil and criminal recourse when public officials act outside of these guidelines. Passing of this bill will create a liability for jurisdictions that they cannot afford. Professional policing is already quite expensive. This bill will make it impossible for jurisdictions to maintain those standards. The passing of this bill will allow a continuous flow of frivolous lawsuits that will not only impact the courts, but have a chilling effect on the law enforcement profession and its ability to effectively do its job. The profession remains in crisis due to the number of officers who have chosen to leave the profession due to the targeted attacks and negative portrayal throughout the media. Applicant pools have virtually dried up throughout the state, leaving agencies fiercely competing with each other for certified officers. These staffing shortages are greatly impacting service delivery as well as an agencies ability to conduct proactive policing and protect their communities. The damage caused over the past two years will take a decade to correct. Should this bill pass, the profession may never rebound to effective levels. Specific legislation was passed over the past several sessions intended to hold law enforcement more accountable for it actions. The VACP has championed several of these bills, recognizing the need for more professional standards and accountability. This legislation needs time to work to make a difference. Removing immunity for our profession will simply make it impossible to do the job we were hired to do and result in officers hesitating to engage and be proactive, and fearful to act. It will create safety issues and cost lives. It will also be the difference between our ability to attract true servants to the profession over those who don't meet the standards our communities expect. We respectfully ask that you reject this bill in its entirety. Chief Maggie A. DeBoard Herndon Police Department Immediate Past President and Legislative Chair of the VACP

Last Name: Neely Organization: Institute for Justice Locality: Washington, DC

Comments Document

The attached file contains one page of written testimony describing my background and support for HB609 and two excerpts from a recent report issued by the Institute for Justice entitled "50 Shades of Government Immunity" that discuss existing Virginia law.

Last Name: Nicholls Locality: Chesapeake

HB609 - People can then sue for 2nd amendment rights violations for not being able to bring firearms where they could before. People could sue because the city didn't fix a pothole or missed one (simply on accident) and they drove over it and the car needed to be realigned. Way too broad and the working public has to pay for it. Egregious items I can see, but this goes way too far, especially given who decides what is a "right" or "privilege". HB515 - Very much needed. When one acts in self defense and gun rights people work to go after those defending themselves, rather than being stopped from wasting the taxpayers' funds and the drama created in the papers and the ruination of peoples' lives, its time to stop folks using their offices to prosecute their political ideologues enemies.

End of Comments