UPDATE: A previous version of this article stated that Virginia Democrats are pushing a bill through the state legislature that will effectively criminalize forms of dissent against Governor Ralph Northam and other state government officials. This is incorrect. House Bill 1627 would make changes to where certain crimes against public officials can be prosecuted, but it doesn’t create any new criminal offenses.
House Bill 1627 was introduced by Delegate Jeffrey M. Bourne last week. The legislation “provides that certain crimes relating to threats and harassment may be prosecuted in the City of Richmond if the victim is the Governor, Governor-elect, Lieutenant Governor, Lieutenant Governor-elect, Attorney General, or Attorney General-elect, a member or employee of the General Assembly, a justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, or a judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia.”
“If any person, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass any person, shall use a computer or computer network to communicate obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, or make any suggestion or proposal of an obscene nature, or threaten any illegal or immoral act, he is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor,” the legislation reads.
Factcheck.org reports on the bill:
The bill proposes several amendments to the law that would make it so that cases of threats or harassment against certain state officials — or threats against some state-owned property — could be prosecuted in the state capital of Richmond, regardless of where such messages were sent or received. Under the current law, some of the statutes contain language that says such prosecutions can occur in locales where the communication was made or received.
Here’s what the bill proposes:
- Prosecutions under an existing statute regarding cases of “[t]hreats of death or bodily injury” (which in some cases is considered a felony) could be carried out in the city of Richmond, Virginia’s capital — not just where the message was sent or received — if the threats are made against any of the following: “the Governor, Governor-elect, Lieutenant Governor, Lieutenant Governor-elect, Attorney General, or Attorney General-elect, a member or employee of the General Assembly, a justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, or a judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia.”
- Charges under another statute — dealing with “[h]arassment by computer,” a class 1 misdemeanor — could also be handled in Richmond if the person harassed is one of the aforementioned officials.
- Prosecutions under a section of the law on “[u]nlawful use of telephones” — which covers offenses such as harassment by phone — could be conducted in Richmond when it comes to cases involving the same officials.
- The current statute pertaining to “[t]hreatening the Governor or his immediate family” would be modified so that prosecutions of such threats against the governor could be carried out in Richmond.
- Violations of another portion of the law, regarding “[t]hreats to bomb or damage buildings or means of transportation,” could also be handled in Richmond if the property is within the capitol district and state-owned.
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