Two Democrats in the Virginia Senate joined with Republicans on Monday to defeat a measure that would have eliminated hundreds of mandatory minimum sentences.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Joe Morrissey died on a vote of 21-19 after a lengthy debate.
It would have eliminated all mandatory minimums, except in the case of a conviction for the aggravated murder of a law enforcement officer. Many of the penalties were adopted decades ago as part of the tough-on-crime movement, which some lawmakers blame for mass incarceration.
“It affects brown and Black defendants more than anybody else. It began in the ’80s and the ’90s when people realized you had never lost an election because you were tough on crime,” Morrissey said as he urged his colleagues to support the bill. He said there are currently 224 mandatory minimums.
Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain said he thought there was bipartisan support for revisiting or repealing some mandatory minimums but that the measure went too far.
Democratic Sens. Lynwood Lewis and Dick Saslaw joined with Republicans to defeat the measure, which would have faced long odds in the GOP-controlled House. But a similar measure passed the Senate last year.
The issue had been a top criminal justice priority at the time, with Democrats in full control of state government. But it fell apart at the last minute due to intraparty disagreement as negotiators failed to reach a compromise.