Latest on 2021 session: Va. Senate passes bill abolishing the death penalty

Virginia Politics

Virginia State Capitol (Photo: 8News)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — State lawmakers must finish bills within their own chamber by the end of the week, a deadline propelling key legislation to the floors of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates for a final vote.

Legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic, measures to legalize marijuana and repeal capital punishment have been discussed in the first few weeks of the 2021 session. Like past sessions, some measures have failed to get through committee while others have moved through without many complaints.

Bills that have survived and advanced will be debated in committee and eventually both chambers will discuss and vote on legislation they have worked on since mid-January.

With the deadline and end of the session looming, 8News will provide an update each day on what you may have missed, legislation to watch out for and the impact the bills are expected to have on Virginians.

What you may have missed

In a bipartisan vote, the Virginia Senate approved legislation Tuesday requiring every local school division to offer all students a choice of in-person or virtual learning. While it will now advance to the House, the bill won’t take effect until July under its current state. 

Several senators expressed their support for the measure from state Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-Henrico), with state Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) calling it “the most important bill” the Senate will vote on during the 2021 legislative session. A handful of Democratic senators joined all of the Republicans in the chamber to vote in favor of the bill. 

“We are losing a generation of children,” state Sen. Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax), the bill’s co-patron, told senators in a floor speech. READ MORE

Read Tuesday’s update: Lawmakers approve Voting Rights Act of Va., marijuana legalization bill clears Senate committee, and a debate over death penalty repeal

Shortly after that vote, the chamber was split along party lines on a bill to ban firearms on Capitol Square and buildings owned by the state. In the end, state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s bill advanced on a 21-18 vote

In an unanimous vote Tuesday, the Senate approved legislation to develop a dedicated fund to help all schools with renovation and construction. The bill was lauded for trying to help modernize all Virginia schools, including those in cities and in rural counties. 

The Virginia House has yet to vote on a similar bill in the chamber.

Debates to watch out for today

Abolishing the Death Penalty in Virginia: When Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) introduced two amendments to Sen. Scott Surovell’s bill to end the death penalty, concern grew over whether the effort to make Virginia the first Southern state to end capital punishment would end in the Senate.

The floor substitutes from Norment called for permitting the commonwealth to enforce the death penalty on those found guilty of killing law enforcement officers and of multiple murders during a single incident.

Another amendment, this one from state Sen. William Stanley (R-Franklin), was also added. Stanley, a supporter of repeal and chief co-patron on the bill, introduced a floor substitute that would have included a mandatory minimum of life without parole for aggravated murder.

All were rejected by the Senate, finally setting up a debate and final floor vote for Wednesday.

UPDATE: The Virginia Senate voted 21-17 to pass the bill abolishing the death penalty.

The Virginia House Courts of Justice Committee approved its own bill to abolish the death penalty with a 15-6-1 vote on Wednesday.

Marijuana Legalization Bill: A measure seeking to legalize marijuana in Virginia has made it through another panel, advancing out the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee with a 11-4 vote on Wednesday. The legislation — which has seen major changes as it moved through subcommittees and committee meetings — will now head to the Senate floor.

Other 2021 session headlines

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