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Northam Vetoes Bills That Would Create New Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Governor Ralph Northam

Governor Ralph Northam is pledging to block any new mandatory minimum sentences in Virginia. He vetoed two bills Wednesday the General Assembly passed earlier this year.

“I believe we have more than enough mandatory minimum sentences more than 200 in Virginia state code,” Northam wrote in a Washington Post editorial. “In recent weeks, I have visited with community leaders across the state seeking input on how I can best utilize the power of the governor’s office to make our Commonwealth fairer and more equitable for communities of color.”

Northam said the state should rely on judges and juries to make sentencing decisions based on individual circumstances.

“In making these decisions, judges and juries consider a number of factors before determining a sentence, and their sentence decisions are the result of intense deliberation,” Northam said. “Imposing mandatory minimum sentences eliminates this discretion and ties the hands of the individuals we have entrusted to make these important decisions.”

Northam vetoed House Bill 2042, which would lock in minimum sentences for killing or injuring police animals and Senate Bill 1675, which would require domestic abusers spend at least 60 days in jail if they’ve been convicted of assaulting family or household members more than once in a decade.

Majority Leader Todd Gilbert pushed back on the governor’s veto of the domestic abuse bill. Gilbert issued a statement saying it would give survivors the assurance their abusers wouldn’t be unable to hurt them again for at least two months.

“This was a bipartisan effort to protect women from their abusers,” Gilbert said. “Republicans and Democrats in the House, as well as the Senate, sent this bill to the Governor’s desk by huge majorities. His veto today is unconscionable.”

Gilbert, a Republican said Northam is attempting to link his vetoes to repairing his own badly damaged reputation in the African American community.

Northam faced calls to resign in February when a racist photo from his medical school yearbook surfaced.