The Virginia House of Delegates engaged in another brief but emotional debate over the death penalty today before giving overwhelmed approval to a bill intended to conform the state's capital punishment law to rules laid down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Del. Raymond E. Vickery Jr. (D-Fairfax) tried to use the bill as a vehicle to eliminate capital punishment and substitute in its place life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. His amendment was defeated overwhelmingly by a voice vote of the 100 House members.
The bill approved by the House establishes procedures for imposing the death penalty by jurise and judges in trial proceedings after a person has been convicted of one of the five types of murder subject to capital punishment.
Under Virginia's present law, death is the mandatory punishment for conviction of murder for hire, murder by an inmate, murder of a kidnaping victim held for ransom, murder of a rape victim or murder committed in connection with a robbery.
Taking the position that Supreme Court rulings have rendered Virginia's death penalty unconstitutional, Vickery said:
"This is not a mere change in procedure. By this change we will reinstitute the death penalty in Virginia.
"Society is entitled to protection, and this amendment providing for life imprisonment without parole would afford it that protection. But when society reaches a certain degree of civilization, it should do away with the taking of lives by the state."
Referring to the recent execution in Utah of convicted Gary Gilmore, Vickery said, "We had an execution recently, how uplifting was that?We know that there will be very few who will march that last mile, but you know it will be a circus everytime."
Dels. Richard R. G. Hobson (D-Alexandria) and J. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk) supported Vickery's amendment in debate. "If you examine the question logically and not emotionally," Glasscock said, "you will conclude that the death penalty is not a deterrent and detracts from honest efforts to combat crime."
Del. A. L. Philpott (D-Henry), chief patron of the death penalty bill, agreed with Glasscock that capital punishment deters no one from committing crimes.
But Philpott rejected attacks on the death penalty based on the Gilmore episode. "It was outside do-gooders who created that charade," he said. "Are we here in Virginia is going to submit to outside forces on this issue?"
Philpott, the most influential figure in the Assembly in drafting the state's criminal and civil procedures, did not agree that Virginia's current death penalty statute is unconstitional. However, he said he wanted to make sure that it is beyond constitutional attack.
The bill permits judge or jury to impose death or life imprisonment on persons convicted of the five types of murder covered. To impose death, it requires a finding that the convicted person poses a continuing threat to society or was guilty of an especially inhuman murder.
The bill provides for review of jury sentences by the judge who presided over the trial and review of all death sentences by the state Supreme Court.
The bill will be up for a final vote without debate in the House on Thursday.
In the State Senate, opposition to a bill regulating large scale bingo games vanished today when Northern Virginia legislators dropped from the bill a controversial provision that would allow localities to charge the game operators a fee based on a percentage of the game's gross income. The measure, which was heavily attacked by Tidewater legislators on Tuesday, then passed by a 37-to-10 vote without debate.
The bill, which now goes to the House, would allow local governments to set the time, place and frequency of bingo games and require operators to furnish audited statements of their financial results. The measure is aimed at stopping the abuses of some large-scale bingo games in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, where five-night-a-aweek games have grossed as much as $48,000 a year.
By a 21-to-17 margin, the Senate passed and sent to the House a resolution that, if approved by the Assembly again next year and voted in a later referendum, would have candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in Virginia run as a ticket. Currently the two officials run separately.
Passage of the election measure, which surprised its sponsor, came despite opposition from a mixture of conservatives and liberals who said it would rob Virginia voters of one of the statewide races for public office.
The Senate rejected by a 22-to-15 vote another proposed state constitutional amendment that would have removed the requirement that local voter registration lists be purged of inactive voters every four years. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), would have made such purges optional.
Opponents claim the amendment would lead to "cluttered" voter registration lists in both Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area that have man transient residents and would lead to voter fraud in Southwest Virginia, an area where charges of election irregularity were frequent before the adoption of the current purge requirment.
At a meeting of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, officials of the Virginia Employment Commission voiced opposition to a bill that would enable workers laid off as a result of energy decrees by Gov. Mills E. Godwin and the State Corporation Commission to obtain unemployment benefits without the customary one-week waiting period. The bill would cost the state's shrinking unemployment compensation fund an estimated $2.4 million, according to Del. Archibald A. Campbell (D.Wythe), the measure's sponsor.