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Republican Senators Re-introduce Parole Transparency Bills for 2021

Both Bills won bipartisan Senate Support During 2020 Special Session 

Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) and Senator David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County) reintroduced legislation today that would require Virginia’s Parole Board release information regarding parole decisions and make the Boards’s votes public. Obenshain’s SB1104 and Suetterlein’s SB1103 are identical to their bills that passed the Virginia Senate with bipartisan support during the 2020 Special Session.

Obenshain’s SB1104 would mandate the Parole Board publish monthly decisions reports that include the offenses that the prisoner committed, the jurisdiction where the prisoner was convicted, and the length of time served. The bill also requires the Board provide notice to the relevant Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Victim/Witness Director so they can present evidence on the potential impact the release would have on the victim and allows victims opportunities to provide input electronically.  Obenshain’s 2020 Special Session proposal unanimously passed the Virginia Senate before the House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice Committee tabled the bill on a party-line vote.

“Over the last few months, Virginians have been appalled by the egregious actions of the Virginia Parole Board and their disregard for the requirements of the law and its own policies and procedures. The Board has released violent felons without regard to requirements that it notify victims and local prosecutors in advance. Their actions have highlighted the lack of transparency under which the Board operates, and this bill seeks to address those transparency concerns.  It is past time the Board follows the law and its own policies and provides to victims and their families the respect they deserve, “ Obenshain said.

Suetterlein’s SB1103 would make Parole Board votes public just like the votes of the Commonwealth’s other public boards and commissions.

“The Parole Board has immense power over critical decisions that impact public safety and individuals’ liberties. Virginians should know who is making those decisions and how they’re making them. It was great to have bipartisan support for this important sunshine reform during the special session and I’m hopeful that we can build on that great support in 2021,” said Suetterlein.

The Virginia Senate passed Suetterlein’s 2020 Special Session legislation on a 29-10 vote that included support from a majority of Senate Democrats. The bill was tabled on a party-line vote in the House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice Committee, but the Virginia Coalition for Open Government is enthusiastic about Suetterlein’s renewed 2021 effort.

“I’m heartened to see Senator Suetterlein re-introduce this commonsense bill. The Virginia Coalition for Open Government continues to support this important measure because the Parole Board should be accountable to the public like other Virginia boards and commissions and have their votes recorded for the public to see,” said Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

Both bills are part of a coordinated effort to bring transparency and accountability to the powerful Parole Board after an Office of the State Inspector General’s report revealed several violations of the law regarding notifying victims’ families and record keeping requirements.

The Virginia General Assembly will convene its 2021 Regular Session on January 13.

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