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Panel Blocks Bill to Ask Legal Status of Arrestees

February 25, 2012

By Amir Vera
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Prince William County officials are upset that a Senate committee has defeated Delegate Richard Anderson’s bill requiring police to ask arrestees whether they are legal U.S. residents.

House Bill 1060, which had passed the House earlier in February, failed on a 7-7 vote last week in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the Senate panel’s action.

“This is a common sense piece of legislation that would improve the safety of Virginians everywhere,” Stewart said.

HB 1060 stated: “Whenever any person is lawfully arrested and taken into custody by a law-enforcement officer, the officer shall inquire as to whether the arrestee is legally present in the United States. If, following the inquiry, the law-enforcement officer has reason to believe that the arrestee may not be legally present in the United States, he shall communicate to the judicial officer the facts and circumstances underlying his belief.”

Under the measure, the judicial officer then would take this information into consideration in setting bail.

The bill was inspired by a policy introduced by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in 2007. Law enforcement officials in Prince William County have followed the policy the past five years.

Anderson, a Republican from Woodbridge, represents House District 51, which includes part of the county. He said the program has been successful.

“It is a highly effective tool that has been employed in a fair and equitable manner by Prince William law enforcement personnel, and it’s time to embrace this procedure across the commonwealth,” Anderson said in a press release.

He said the practice has led to the arrest of “more than 4,500 criminal illegal aliens.”

Anderson added that his proposal was not discriminatory.

“This bill deals with what happens after a person has committed an illegal act … And it has everything to do with treating 100 percent of all arrestees in the same manner, no matter how they look, talk or walk,” Anderson said.

The House adopted HB 1060 on a 75-25 vote on Feb. 14. But it failed on a tie vote Wednesday in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. Seven Republicans on the panel voted for the bill; six Democrats and a Republican (Sen. Thomas Norment of Williamsburg) voted against it.

The bill’s opponents said it may lead to problems between minorities and police. Anderson disputed such concerns.

“Predicted claims against the county never materialized, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials validated that Prince William law enforcement officers made correct determinations of illegal presence in 98 percent of all cases,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s bill has not been the only “legal presence” legislation to have problems:
Delegate David Albo, R-Springfield, sponsored HB 472, which would have required police to ascertain the legal status of arrestees who can’t produce a driver’s license or other identification. It died in the House Courts of Justice Committee.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Sterling, sponsored Senate Bill 460, which would have required police to determine an arrestee’s status when they have “reasonable suspicion that the person is unlawfully present in the United States.” It failed on a tie vote in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee in January.

Despite the setbacks, Stewart said he will continue to push for a law to ascertain the legal status of people who are arrested in Virginia.

“Although this legislation did not become law this year, we will not give up the fight,” Stewart said. “As I travel the Commonwealth, I continue to relay the positive impact this policy has had in Prince William County.”

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted Wednesday on “HB 1060 Citizenship of arrestee; if accused is not committed to jail, arresting officer to ascertain.”

02/22/12 Senate: Failed to report (defeated) in Courts of Justice (7-Y 7-N)

YEAS – Obenshain, McDougle, Stuart, Vogel, Stanley, Reeves, Garrett – 7.

NAYS – Norment, Saslaw, Marsh, Howell, Edwards, Puller, McEachin – 7.

On the Web

To comment on House Bill 1060, visit the Richmond Sunlight website:
www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2012/hb1060/