Senate advances death penalty abolition bill for final vote

February 2, 2021 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A bill that would abolish the death penalty in Virginia cleared a hurdle in the state Senate on Tuesday and is poised for a final vote later this week.

The Democrat-controlled chamber voted to advance a bill from Sen. Scott Surovell to a third and final reading after rejecting a Republican senator’s proposed changes that would have significantly altered it.

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment sought to recast the bill so that it would reduce the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty but not end it entirely. His proposals were defeated.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has said he supports a full repeal. A House version of the bill still needs a committee hearing before it can advance to the full chamber.

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Virginia has traditionally been an active capital punishment state. It has executed nearly 1,400 people in more than four centuries, more than any other state, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In modern times, Virginia is second only to Texas in the number of executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Only two men remain on death row. Surovell’s bill would commute their sentences to life without parole.