Virginia lawmakers approved a House bill to abolish the death penalty, sending it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
On Monday, HB 2263 won approval by a vote of 22-16 in Virginia’s General Assembly after the measure passed in the House on Feb. 5. Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign it.
“That notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person may be sentenced to death or put to death on or after the effective date of this act for any violation of law,” the bill reads.
If approved, the state’s maximum penalty will be life without the possibility of parole.
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Northam signaled his intent to sign the legislation in a statement released after the vote, calling the bill “an important step forward in ensuring that our criminal justice system is fair and equitable to all.”
“It is vital that our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably. We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane. … It’s time we stop this machinery of death,” he said. “Thanks to the vote of lawmakers in both chambers, Virginia will join 22 other states that have ended use of the death penalty.”
The bill’s passage was celebrated by the state’s Democrats, with Sen. Tim Kaine calling the move “a singular achievement marking a repudiation of racism and a commitment to justice” in a Washington Post op-ed.
Kaine noted that Virginia executed its first citizen in 1608 and 1,390 others since. After abolishing the death penalty in 1972, the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976, at which point Virginia was second only to Texas in terms of executions.
Republicans were critical of the move, arguing that some crimes are so heinous they warrant capital punishment.
“It’s not about revenge, it’s not about retribution. Ultimately, it’s about justice,” Republican Del. Jason Miyares said on Friday.
If signed into law, the bill would make Virginia the first southern state and the 23rd state nationwide to ban the punishment.
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A twin Senate version of the bill, SB 1165, was approved by Virginia’s upper chamber on Feb. 3. Both versions of the bill will head to Northam’s desk for approval.
Obenshain’s office did not immediately respond to the Washington Examiner’s request for comment.