© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Youngkin’s latest vetoes limit police recruitment, strike at criminal justice reform

Photo courtesy via VPM News
Photo courtesy via VPM News

Governor Glenn Younkin vetoed just under two dozen bills Wednesday night, many of them related to criminal justice reforms.

Among them was one that would have changed the life of Jemny Marquinez.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ

“All I ask this afternoon is for the chance to prove to you all that allowing me to be a police officer will be a great thing for Virginia and Prince William County,” Marquinez told a senate committee earlier this year in defense of a  bill that would allow DACA recipients like her to become a police officer.

Marquinez was brought to the country illegally from El Salvador by her parents at the age of 3. She got a degree in criminology from George Mason, and an internship with the police department where she grew up in the hopes of positively impacting the community that raised her. She eventually got an administrative position but can't become a sworn police officer because of her legal status.

But the bill, patroned by Senator Jeremy McPike and modeled on similar measures in Colorado and California, was vetoed by Governor Glenn Youngkin Wednesday. The governor took to Fox News Thursday morning to defend his actions.

“Two of the bills I vetoed yesterday were trying to protect illegal immigrants. They were going to allow non-citizens to be police chiefs,” Youngkin said.

McPike, a Democrat whose district oversees the region Marquinez would have policed, called Youngkin’s veto quote “abhorrent.”

“[We wanted to allow] those kids who grew up and had a dream to be a police officer," the senator said. "And what happened was the governor just crushed those kids' dreams.”

Peter Newsham, Chief of Police for Prince William County, also advocated for McPike’s bill. He said his jurisdiction is the most diverse part of the state and having Spanish speakers, let alone DACA recipients, on staff can help reach communities that are afraid to speak to cops.

“There are many DACA recipients who meet and exceed the hiring qualifications,” Newsham told the Senate committee in January, noting his department had over 50 vacancies at the time. “Their only barrier to being hired is their citizenship status.”

But the police requirements bill was only one of several bills Democrats and advocates argue would have improved life for those in the Commonwealth. Youngkin, meanwhile, said they would make Virginia less safe.

“They’re sending me bills that are representative of the progressive left,” he said early Thursday. “They want to undermine public safety and make it harder for our prosecutors to hold people accountable.”

Among the bills was an  effort by Senator Jennifer Boysko which would reduce the penalty for assaulting a law enforcement officer when a person’s behaviors are the result of a mental illness or intellectual disability like dementia or autism.

Rob Poggenklass with Justice Forward Virginia, a group representing public defenders, said current law often results in felony convictions and a six-month jail sentence for people with little or no control over their actions in a time of crisis.

“The families of the folks we’ve worked with in the autistic community and in the mental health community don’t feel safe calling law enforcement when their loved ones are experiencing a behavioral health crisis,” Poggenklass told Radio IQ.

In his statement vetoing the bill, Youngkin said it was excessively broad. He also argued there are already protections in Virginia law for people who are not criminally responsible due to mental illness.

Boysko and advocates had been working on the bill for half a decade, and in a statement the Senator said Youngkin doesn't realize who's being hurt absent these protections.

"People who have a felony record are prohibited from receiving services," Boysko said. "So this population of vulnerable individuals would be left with no assistance, no housing. When their parents are no longer able to care for them, if they have a felony, they will be on their own."

Another bill that stuck out to Poggenklass was a bi-partisan  effort that would have required prosecutors to send digital copies of evidence to defense attorneys.

“The level of deference to prosecutors has really reached its peak and there are other voices that should be listened to,” Poggenklass said.

Youngkin defended the veto in a statement saying some prosecutor's offices "still rely on typewriters due to limited digital infrastructure."

Youngkin’s statements on Fox News, and his weekly release of vetoes, look more like a campaign effort than governance, Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell said.

“Most governor’s release their vetoes the last day they’re allowed to,” the northern Virginia Senator said. “Instead, we’ve got a governor who's engaging in an endless PR campaign to distract from a budget he proposed that would raise sales taxes and give his rich friends tax breaks.”

“I think he’s running to be Trump’s Vice-Presidential pick,” Surovell hypothesized after pointing to his use of “illegal immigrants” on Fox.

As for McPike, he said he’s going to continue to advocate for folks like Marquinez.

“Youngkin will be out of office soon enough,” he said.