Virginia poised to abolish death penalty, first southern state to do so

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Virginia poised to abolish death penalty, first southern state to do so

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Virginia’s House of Delegates cleared the way for the state to become the first in the South to abolish the death penalty. 

The House voted 57-41 to end capital punishment after the Senate had done so earlier this week. Two Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for the bill. Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has said signing the bill is a top priority. 

There is still one unresolved disparity: the House bill reserves the right to punish the most serious crimes with life without the possibility of parole. The Senate bill allows some parole eligibility. 

“The government should not be in the business of killing human beings. It’s immoral, inhumane,” Democratic Del. Marcus Simon representing Falls Church told WTTG, the Fox-owned station in Washington D.C. 

Republicans raised concerns about justice for the victims, and some perpetrators deserve “the ultimate punishment.” 

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“If there’s one word to describe what happened to these victims, it is just cruelty. Unimaginable cruelty on a scale that’s hard to even process,” he said.

Democrats said capital punishment is directly tied to institutional racism. 

“The death penalty is the direct descendant of lynching. It is state-sponsored racism,” said Del. Jerrauld Jones, D-Norfolk.

Capital punishment is currently authorized in 28 states.

The practice has significantly slowed down in recent years– only two people are on death row in Virginia. The last execution took place in 2017 when William Morva was given a lethal injection for committing two murders. But since 1976 when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Virginia trails only Texas in the number of executions — 114. 

Also on Friday the House voted 55-42 to legalize marijuana, another first for Southern states. The Senate planned to vote later in the day on the matter. 

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Republicans opposed the bill for different reasons — Del. James Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, said that legalized pot could lead to increased mental health issues in young people and more organized crime. Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, said he supports legalization but feels the current bill gives government too much power to interfere in the market. He said he was “hopeful” the measure could change in committee and he could vote for it. 

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The two measures mark a sharp turn in the commonwealth from deep red to solid blue, thanks to Washington, D.C.’s sprawling suburbs in the northern part of the state. 

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