Several bills under consideration this session seek to refine the process for removal of elected or appointed local officers. As introduced, SB 1328 (McClellan), would have established a process for recall elections for elected officers and officers appointed to elected offices, instead of the current judicial process. As revised in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, the bill would retain the existing judicial process, but would increase the required number of signatures for the petition to the court for removal from 10 percent to 30 percent of the total number of votes cast at the last election for the office that the officer holds. The bill also places guardrails on the timing of removal petitions by requiring the signatures to be collected within 90 days, and providing that signatures could not be collected within 75 days of a primary election or party nomination process and through the date of the next general election (if the officer is the winner of the primary election or party nomination process) or between the date of any general or special election in which the officer is a candidate and the thirtieth day after the officer takes office. This bill has passed the Senate.
HB 2289 (Williams) and SB 1431 (Surovell) make a series of clarifying amendments to the existing process for removal. The bills include the following provisions:
- Specify that the circuit court may remove an officer for neglect of “a clear, ministerial duty” of the office (current Code language speaks to “neglect of duty”).
- Stipulate that the petition for removal shall be on a form prescribed by the State Board of Elections.
- Require the general registrar to review the petition and determine its sufficiency; the general registrar would be required to certify the petition within ten business days and file a certification with the clerk of the circuit court.
- Require the Commonwealth’s Attorney to review the petition and determine if valid grounds exist to remove the officer; upon determining that valid grounds exist, the Commonwealth’s Attorney would be required to notify the circuit court.
- Include language requiring the court to determine by “clear and convincing evidence” that removal is warranted.
- Provide that the Commonwealth and the officer are the only parties to the action in the removal proceeding.
HB 2289 (Williams) is on the House floor. SB 1431 has passed the Senate.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle