Review of the 2019 General Assembly Session
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When the 2019 General Assembly ended in February, those of us in the anti-death penalty movement had much to appreciate. For the first time ever the Virginia Senate voted to limit the reach of the death penalty! As a result, not only can we see executions shrinking, we can also envision complete abolition not too far in the future.
VADP and its partners were able to make significant progress with our efforts to prevent those with severe mental illness from being executed. SB 1137 passed on a bipartisan basis in both the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and in the full Senate, receiving support from four Republicans and nineteen Democrats.
As challenging as it was to pass this bill in the Senate, it was even more so in the House. The chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee is a fierce death penalty supporter. Unfortunately, a House subcommittee stopped Severe Mental Illness reform in its tracks.
While our momentum was temporarily halted, VADP is already gearing up to build on this year’s success as we look forward to the criminal justice reform legislation’s reintroduction in 2020.
Our coalition — which includes Virginia Catholic Conference, the ACLU of Virginia, and National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia — together with the bill’s patron, Senator Barbara Favola, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, was the force that made this historic progress possible.
Much of the bipartisan support in the Senate came as the result of VADP’s strategy of educating business people, editors, and members of the faith and civic communities through the tireless efforts of our Field Director Dale Brumfield. Over the past eighteen months he met with hundreds of key local leaders in areas not normally supportive of death penalty reform.
Three Senators, who had not been expected to support our work, backed us in the vote. We believe this constituent outreach for the SMI exemption bill by our Field Director was crucial to getting the votes of these Senators.
Dale’s work was critical and possible only because of the generous financial support of our donors during the past year.
VADP monitored two other bills in this legislative session. One was intended to give our state courts the power to order that mentally incompetent defendants in capital murder cases receive medically appropriate treatment rather than treatment designed to simply restore mental competency for trial. Unfortunately, it was amended to eliminate the requirement for medically appropriate treatment that ensures that incompetent defendants accused of capital murder would never be released without a court order.
The second was legislation that would have expanded the jurisdiction of the state Board of Pharmacy. This was a complex measure that would, among other things, require that execution drugs made by a compounding pharmacy be subject to the requirements of the Drug Control Act and the jurisdiction of the Board of Pharmacy. The proposal never caught traction in the legislature and was defeated in the House General Laws Committee.
For years we have set a goal of having a serious debate in the state legislature during the next legislative session in 2020. The outcome of this past session indicates that we are on track to have bipartisan support for abolition in both the House of Delegates and the Senate.