RICHMOND – A Senate panel on Monday effectively killed a proposal that would have reinstated presumptions against bail in Virginia. The Democratic majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee defeated House Bill 1365, sponsored by Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, by a 9-6 party-line vote.
The legislation, which advanced in the House by 52-46 vote at the end of January, sought to repeal a criminal justice reform bill passed by Democrats in 2021 that eliminated the presumption against bond. Presumptions against bail are a legislator-created list of offenses that result in a person accused thereof being held in jail until their case is resolved, which can sometimes take years.
Williams brought back the measure in amended form again this year after it had failed in the Senate during the 2022 session. He somewhat softened the proposal, hoping that Democrats would view it more favorably.
“The original bill was a presumption against total bond, and I ratcheted down. I’m trying to strike a happy medium, I’m not sure what that is, but this is definitely a step towards the middle,” he told the panel Monday.
The amended bill would have brought back presumptions against releasing a defendant on their own recognizances or unsecured bonds, “so they’ll be able to get a bond,” Williams said.
But instead of letting an offender go free without knowing if they’ll come back or being able to revoke a bond as easily, it would be a presumption that if they did commit the offenses that they are charged with, they would not be able to get an unsecured bond, Williams said.
“If you’ve ever been convicted of a failure to appear within the previous year, you can’t receive an unsecured or a recognizances sign-out sheet. Instead, you’d have to obtain a secured bond, or you’d have to overcome the presumption against being released on an unsecured bond,” Williams said.
Williams refuted a comment by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, the committee co-chair, who argued that courts already have the discretion relating to their approval of bonds.
“We’re finding that magistrates are regularly giving out recognizances or unsecured bonds, which is leading to people coming in after an offense and going back out and committing another offense,” Williams said. “We’re numerating some considerations that say there should be some presumptions against releasing that person. There is no presumption against releasing them on bond, so they can get out. It just says that they shouldn’t be released on an unsecured bond or their own recognizances.”
Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, a member of the committee, said that while he understands that the purpose of Williams’ proposal was to prevent an offender from being released on his or her own recognizance for certain offenses, the reason why the General Assembly eliminated presumption against bail two years ago was because there is “a disparity between those folks” that couldn’t afford bail.
“Black people for example, versus somebody who is able to afford bail,” Morrissey said. “That was what we were getting at by removing presumption against bail, and this seems to take us right back to that.”
The same Senate panel on Monday also rejected HB 1549, filed by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Smyth County, which provides that if the parent or legal guardian of a child is killed by someone driving a motor vehicle or watercraft under the influence, the person who has custody of the child can ask the court that the defendant pay child support.
The measure passed in the House by a 66-32 vote last month, but the committee defeated it by 10-5.
Senate panel backs O’Quinn bill on energy research fund
Also on Monday, a Senate panel backed a proposal by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County, creating the Virginia Power Innovation Fund with funding to be used solely for the purposes of research and development of innovative energy technologies, including nuclear, hydrogen, geothermal, pumped storage hydropower, battery storage and manufacturing, and carbon capture and utilization.
HB 2386 also creates the Virginia Power Innovation Program to use tax dollars to establish a Virginia nuclear innovation hub and award competitive grants to support energy innovation.
“Those grants would be awarded competitively and would be used for research and development in innovative energy technologies. It supports energy innovation and hopefully the establishment of the subsequent supply chain and will attract these cutting edge assets to the ground,” O’Quinn told members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Nuclear technology is a major part of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s energy plan, which he rolled out in October, stating that Virginia must be “all in” on nuclear energy. Youngkin also wants to deploy at least one small modular nuclear reactor somewhere in Southwest Virginia within 10 years.
Committee member Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County, said that he hopes that Virginia nuclear power, “which is the cleanest of all energy,” comes back. “I hope that at some point we’ll keep what’s going on in Tidewater and Lynchburg alive, it’s some unbelievable research in nuclear energy,” Newman said, referring a facility operated by BWXT Nuclear Operations Group, Inc. in Lynchburg that manufactures naval nuclear reactor cores for submarines and aircraft carriers.
O’Quinn’s bill advanced in the committee by a 11-3 vote, with one abstention. The measure is now headed to the Senate Finance Committee.
A Senate subcommittee with unanimous support also passed another O’Quinn proposal that would establish a Nuclear Education Grant Fund and Program to be administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Under HB1779, this fund would award grants on a competitive basis to any public or private institution of higher education that seeks to establish or expand a nuclear education program. The measure passed in the House by a 93-6 vote earlier this month.
House panel kills Edwards’ proposal to study whether to make Transportation Museum a state agency
A House panel on Monday rejected a proposal seeking to turn the Virginia Transportation Museum in Roanoke, which is currently operated as a nonprofit, into a state agency.
After SB 1020, a proposal by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, passed unanimously in the Senate earlier this month, the House Education Committee by a 12-10 vote defeated the measure, which would have studied whether to establish the museum as a public entity and educational institution under the commonwealth, governed by a 15-member board of trustees.
It was Edwards’ second attempt at the state’s takeover of the museum. Last year, a Democratic-controlled Senate committee last year blocked a similar effort in order to allow for either the Virginia Department of Transportation or the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission more time to study its fiscal impact that is estimated to be between $1 million and $3.5 million annually, based on the size and scope of the museum.