augusta free press news

Northam proposes budget amendments, signs bills on mental health, criminal justice

virginia state capitol
(© SeanPavonePhoto –

Gov. Ralph Northam took action on Virginia’s revised biennial budget on Thursday, sending back to legislators enabling language that would allow the Commonwealth to implement redistricting reform in the state constitution passed by Virginia voters on Election Day, and adding $1 million to fund an independent investigation into the culture at the Virginia Military Institute.

“In August, I called legislators back into session to tackle some of our Commonwealth’s most pressing challenges,” Northam said. “This revised state budget will do tremendous good as we battle COVID-19 and work together to continue building a stronger, fairer Virginia. I am proud of the meaningful progress we made to enhance police accountability, advance criminal justice reform, invest in our economic recovery, and provide critical relief to Virginians amid the ongoing public health crisis. I thank the General Assembly for their ongoing partnership in delivering for the people of our Commonwealth.”

Northam’s letter to the General Assembly detailing his amendments to the revised state budget is available here.

Other actions from Northam related to the 2020 special session:

  • Northam signed Senate Bill 5038 and House Bill 5043, which establish a statewide mental health awareness response and community understanding services (Marcus) alert system. This measure promotes a behavioral health response to individuals in crisis, including by limiting the role of law enforcement, and is named after Marcus-David Peters, who was killed by a police officer while experiencing a behavioral health crisis in 2018.
  • The governor also signed Senate Bill 5007,  which aligns Virginia with the vast majority of states in allowing judges to decide sentences in criminal cases, except when a defendant requests sentencing by a jury. This change is expected to result in fairer sentences and reduce over-incarceration.
  • Northam proposed changes to House Bill 5106, which protects certain tenants that have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. He added a technical amendment, which clearly defines the adverse actions that may not be taken against tenants based on payment history or an eviction for nonpayment of rent that occurred during the pandemic.