RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia Senate panel narrowly rejected a bill to give the attorney general power to prosecute certain violent crimes against children for the second straight year.
The effort, backed by Attorney General Jason Miyares (R), was revived by state Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) with a few changes from last year’s proposal.
The 2022 bill would have expanded the AG’s office’s power to prosecute certain alleged sex crimes involving minors after an official request from local law enforcement.
This year, Sen. McDougle narrowed the proposal to allow the AG’s office to prosecute local cases involving criminal sexual assault and commercial sex trafficking.
One local prosecutor, Pulaski County Commonwealth Attorney Justin Griffith, and a representative from Miyares’ office, Nicole Wittmann, spoke in support of the measure during the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Wittmann told the panel the bill was the AG office’s effort to “support local prosecutors,” local police and victims, adding the intention was not to usurp local prosecutors.
Griffith faced questions from committee members about how local prosecutors would cede power to the attorney general under the proposal, noting that there are options to ask the AG’s office for assistance on such cases.
Pulaski County’s top prosecutor responded that he backed giving victims the option, even if it would give the AG’s office authority to take over cases without his office’s consent.
A representative from the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys — a group representing all 120 elected local prosecutors in the commonwealth — said the association opposed the legislation Wednesday.
Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said the legislature has seen efforts to expand the AG’s authority in local cases for the last “four or five sessions.”
“And every single time the attorney general’s office has asked for additional authority to prosecute, we’ve rejected that, under both attorneys general, the prior one and this one,” Sen. Surovell said. “And I think we need to maintain that policy.”
Moments later, the panel voted 8-7 to pass the bill “by indefinitely,” a step that essentially kills the measure this General Assembly session. Just like last year, state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) sided with Republicans hoping to advance the bill.