RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Police chiefs in Virginia could soon be allowed to set curfews during civil unrest under a bill on its way to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.
The Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation Wednesday from Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) that would empower local law enforcement chiefs to impose curfews for up to 24 hours if there is “an imminent threat of any civil commotion or disturbance in the nature of a riot which constitutes a clear and present danger.”
Del. Keith Hodges (R-Middlesex) said on the House floor before the vote that the bill, which already passed out the Virginia Senate on a bipartisan 27-12 vote, would mainly impact Virginia cities and that mayors and city managers would have to agree with the imposed curfew.
House Democrats asked Del. Hodges questions and raised concerns about the bill’s impact on counties and also cities with a weak-mayor system — where mayors have little authority over policy and typically serve as city council members.
Del. Hodges said it wouldn’t impact counties, despite later acknowledging it would for counties such as Fairfax that don’t elect their top law enforcement officers. Local governing bodies, leaders and elected sheriffs can take steps to enact curfews, but Hodges said the bill would help “streamline” the process for cities.
Police chiefs should specify the hours of the curfew and the area to which it applies, according to the bill. There should also be exceptions for those traveling to or from home, work, a place of worship, the press, military and medical personnel and others.
While the curfew shouldn’t last more than a day, it could be extended with a vote from the local governing body or a court order. Violators of the curfew could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries up to a year in jail and a fine.
The legislation comes after civil unrest and nationwide racial justice protests in 2020 in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. Leaders across the country and in Virginia, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, announced curfews in response to the 2020 protests.
The Virginia House ultimately voted 53-43 on Wednesday to send the bill to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk. The assembly’s 2023 legislative session is set to end on Feb. 25.