Bill repealing Virginia’s death penalty faces uncertain future in the Senate

Capitol Connection

Greensville Correctional Center near Jarratt, Virginia, houses Va’s execution chamber. (Photo: 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill to repeal Virginia’s death penalty faces an uncertain future as one Republican state senator added a substitute Thursday that could threaten its passage in the Virginia Senate.

The effort to end capital punishment has been backed by Gov. Ralph Northam and Democrats seeking to make Virginia the first Southern state to abolish the death penalty.

A bill from state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 10-4 vote on Jan. 18, with one GOP senator joining nine Democrats in support of the bill. The measure was then approved 12-4 by the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, moving it to the Senate floor.

Surovell says that the legislation would commute the death sentences of the two offenders on Virginia’s death row to life without the possibility of parole. Critics have argued that repealing the capital punishment law would be a threat to law enforcement officers and not deter criminals.

On Thursday, state Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City) introduced a substitute that would permit the state to enforce the death penalty on those who killed law enforcement officers or was found guilty of multiple homicides. The legislation was passed by for the day by after it was introduced.

Ahead of his State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration said the governor would support and introduce legislation to abolish capital punishment during this year’s General Assembly session. Gubernatorial hopeful Del. Lee Carter (D- Manassas) has filed a bill in the House of Delegates.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court let states resume the death penalty in 1976, Virginia has conducted the second most executions, 113, behind only Texas. Despite this, the last execution in Virginia was in 2017.

Data from the Death Penalty Information Center says that 25 states still have the death penalty, 22 don’t and three have moratoriums imposed by their governors.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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