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Virginia House Votes to Abolish Death Penalty

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FILE - Guards stand outside the entrance to the Greensville Correctional Center, where executions are carried out, in Jarratt, Va., Sept. 23, 2010. Virginia's House on Feb. 5, 2021, pass a bill that would end the death penalty in the state.

The U.S. state of Virginia took another step Friday toward abolishing the death penalty, with the House voting to end the practice, making it all but certain the action will become law.

The House passage followed a Senate vote earlier in the week and came after Democratic Governor Ralph Northam said he would sign the measure.

The bill passed in the House 47-41, mostly along party lines. All but one Democrat voted for passage while three Republicans joined the Democrats.

Also Friday, both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly voted to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. Both bills call for beginning the sale of marijuana in the state in 2024 and creating a new state agency to oversee the sales. However, there are still large differences between the House and Senate bills that need to be reconciled before the legislation can be sent to the governor, who could also seek to make changes.

If approved, the legislation would make Virginia the first Southern state to legalize marijuana.

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Both the marijuana and the death penalty changes are significant developments in Virginia, a longtime conservative state. Virginia reliably voted to send Republicans to the White House from 1968 to 2004, but that trend began shifting in recent years. Since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the state has been choosing Democrats for president.

Over the centuries, Virginia has executed more prisoners than any other U.S. state. The Death Penalty Information Center says the state has executed 1,389 people since its days as a colony.

However, in recent years, Virginia has carried out fewer executions. The last one was in 2017, and only two men remain on the state’s death row.

“The repeal of capital punishment in Virginia takes our commonwealth out of the business of determining life and death and ends a practice that a majority of Virginians oppose,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said after Friday’s vote.

Democrats argued that capital punishment is disproportionately used against Black people, while Republicans said that the punishment is necessary for justice and made arguments on behalf of the victims of violent crime.

Federally, executions have also been trending downward. But former President Donald Trump, a Republican, resumed federal executions after a 17-year hiatus. During his term, 13 people were executed, the most since Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has said he will seek to end the federal death penalty.

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