FILE - VA Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (VCU CNS | Flickr via Creative Commons)

(The Center Square) – Virginia, which has used the death penalty more than any other state, is just a step away from abolishing the death penalty—a signature from Gov. Ralph Northam.

Two bills that would end the death penalty in the commonwealth, House Bill 2263 and Senate Bill 1165, advanced through the legislature Monday. The governor intends to sign the legislation.

“Virginia is joining 22 other states in abolishing the death penalty, after centuries of the immoral practice being unjustly applied to people of color, and sometimes, the innocent,” Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said in a statement. “As the patron of the bill this year and in years past, it’s been a long battle to get this far – but a worthwhile one, to see the Commonwealth now take steps forward after years of falling backward.”

Northam issued a joint statement with House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

“It is vital that our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably,” the statement said. “We all know the death penalty doesn’t do that. It is inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane. Over Virginia’s long history, this Commonwealth has executed more people than any other state. And, like many other states, Virginia has come too close to executing an innocent person. It’s time we stop this machinery of death.”

The legislation received opposition from Republican leaders who argued the death penalty helps provide closure to victims and modern science prevents people from being wrongfully convicted.

Although Virginia has executed more people than any other state in its more-than 400-year existence – dating back to colonial times – the state has scaled back. The last person to be executed was in 2017 and there are only two people on death row. In the past 10 years, eight people have been executed and since 2000, 40 people have been executed.

The state’s fiscal impact is $77,376 annually to correctional facilities to account for the two individuals currently on death row who will serve life in prison when the legislation is signed by the governor.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.