02 February 2020 :
The Senate passed SB 116 that would bar the death penalty for individuals who were suffering from severe mental illness at the time of the crime. The mental illness bill passed with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 32-7. The Virginia vote marked the second time the Senate had passed what would be a first-in-the-nation legislative prohibition on the use of the death penalty against persons with severe mental illness. On January 27, 2019, the senate passed similar legislation by a 23-17 vote but that bill died without a vote in a House criminal justice subcommittee. This year, a majority of Republican senators (11 of 19), including five who had opposed the bill in 2019, joined all 21 senate Democrats in supporting the proposal. After Democrats gained control of the Virginia House of Delegates in the November 2019 legislative elections, news reports say that subcommittee “has been dramatically reconfigured,” raising the prospects that the delegates will approve the mental illness exemption this session. The bill defines severe mental illness as “active psychotic symptoms that substantially impair a person’s capacity to (i) appreciate the nature, consequences, or wrongfulness of the person’s conduct; (ii) exercise rational judgment in relation to the person’s conduct; or (iii) conform the person’s conduct to the requirements of the law.” Governor Ralph Northam, who is also a medical doctor, says he supports the exemption.