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Virginia Senate approves bill downgrading assault of a police officer to a misdemeanor

'This is unhinged'

ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

The Virginia Senate approved legislation that would allow assaulting a police officer to be charged as a misdemeanor instead of a felony if the law enforcement officer does not suffer any bodily injury. The bill also removes the mandatory minimum six-month sentence for assaulting a police officer.

Senate Bill 5032 would eliminate "the mandatory minimum term of confinement for an assault and battery committed against a judge; magistrate; law-enforcement officer; correctional officer; person directly involved in the care, treatment, or supervision of inmates; firefighter; or volunteer firefighter or any emergency medical services personnel and provides that such crime can no longer be committed as a simple assault and must result in a bodily injury."

The legislation would allow judges to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor if the law enforcement officer was unharmed or if the assailant suffers from diminished capacity or a developmental disorder. If the charge is brought as a felony, it requires an investigation by a different police officer and must be approved by a Commonwealth's Attorney, according to the Washington Post.

The Virginia Senate voted 21-15 to pass Senate Bill 5032 on Wednesday during the Virginia General Assembly special session, WSLS-TV reported. The legislation was approved after all 21 Democrats voted in favor of the bill and 15 Republicans voted against it. The legislation will now move to the state House, where Democrats hold a 55-45 majority.

Democrats argue that the law would allow judges to distinguish between minor and serious assaults. The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Scott A. Surovell, noted that the bill "does not defund the police" and "does not grant anyone the right to assault first responders."

"For too long in this commonwealth, there have been cases where the punishment is disproportionate to the crime," Democratic Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan said. "That is part of what people are marching in the street and demanding change for."

Republicans contend that the bill would subvert law enforcement, and many referenced the current nationwide protests that have escalated into riots where police officers have been attacked.

"What in the world are we doing here?" Republican state Sen. John Cosgrove Jr. said, The Washington Post reported. "Have you watched television for the last couple of weeks? Have you seen what our police officers are going through? And here we are with a bill that's going to actually make it easier for someone to actually assault a police officer."

"That message to law enforcement is that we don't care about you," Republican Sen. Ryan T. McDougle said. "And we're sending a message to people that riot in our streets … that if you encounter a law enforcement officer you don't need to be concerned because if you assault them it's not as serious."

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is vehemently against the legislation.

"This is unhinged," Cotton wrote on Twitter. "The Democrat Virginia Senate has passed a bill that would dramatically reduce penalties for assaulting a police officer. Liberal politicians are endangering police officers and fueling the riots in our streets."

"And it's not just the police," he added. "The bill reduces penalties for assaults against judges, firefighters, EMS personnel, and more! Democrats want to declare open season on public servants."

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