Virginia state lawmakers on Monday approved legislation that would abolish the death penalty in the state, moving the Old Dominion one step closer to becoming the first southern state to outlaw the practice.
The bill – HB 2263 – now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk for final approval. The Democratic governor has previously signaled he intends to sign the legislation into law and called the death penalty “inequitable, ineffective, and inhumane” in a joint statement following the bill’s passage.
“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,” he said in the statement with Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw.
Virginia’s Senate voted 22-16 Monday to give final approval to the measure. The provision had previously passed the House in a 57-41 vote.
Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmosky told CNN on Monday that the governor’s office expects to receive the bill in “a few days” after it clears a number of routine administrative actions.
Once signed, the legislation will go into effect in July. It will also commute existing death sentences to life imprisonment without parole.
The bill would make Virginia the 23rd state to ban capital punishment and the first southern state to repeal the death penalty since the US Supreme Court reinstated the punishment in 1976.
Virginia has executed more than 1,300 people – more than any other state since the Jamestown colony’s first recorded execution in 1608 for espionage, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Opponents of the legislation have argued that the death penalty is about justice for victims of crimes, with GOP state Del. Jason Miyares arguing earlier this month that “victims have been completely left out in this debate over the death penalty.”
CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.