Mandatory minimum sentences have to go, even for crimes of violence, Governor Ralph Northam said Wednesday.
Northam, a Democrat, vetoed two bills that would have established mandatory minimum sentences in two instances — a 60-day term for domestic abusers who commit a second act of abuse in 10 years, and six month term for anyone who kills a law enforcement animal such as a police dog.
“While violence is unacceptable, these are crimes that can be addressed by a judge with full knowledge of the facts and circumstances of each particular case,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “There are better ways to ensure that the punishment fits the crime, and many of these ways are already in our code, such as sentencing guidelines.”
Ending mandatory minimums is a question of fairness for “communities of color,” he wrote. Northam has been meeting with African American and other minority group leaders since February, when photos of a person in blackface and another in a KKK robe on his yearbook page became public.
Republicans blasted Northam’s vetoes as putting political rehabilitation ahead of victims of domestic violence.
“When Republicans called on Ralph Northam to resign in February, it was because we felt he could no longer effectively govern,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said. “Today’s vetoes are proof of that. When given the choice of protecting women who have survived domestic abuse or attempting to repair his own racist legacy, he put himself first.”
House Bill 2042 passed both chambers with large bipartisan majorities, and was a project of both Gilbert and Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax.
“This was a bipartisan effort to protect women from their abusers,” said Gilbert. “His veto today is unconscionable.”
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albermarle, was even more direct in his comments.
“Time and again [a victim’s] husband beats her, and time and again she prosecutes him. But even the third time he gets convicted, the Governor of Virginia says he doesn’t have to go to jail. It is obscene,” Bell said.
While the bill passed both the House and Senate with more than enough votes to overturn Northam’s veto, the legislature has adjourned for the year following annual one-day “veto” session in early April.
The vetoes came after the chambers rejected changes proposed by Northam earlier in the session.