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Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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Bill to bring back electric chair advances in House

A shortage of the drugs used for lethal injection executions has prompted a bill to bring back the electric chair.

The House on Tuesday advanced Del. Jackson Miller’s bill, which says that if the Department of Corrections certifies lethal injection isn’t available for a scheduled execution, electrocution will be used instead.

That will allow executions to proceed even if the drugs aren’t available, Miller told House members.

And they aren’t — the Department of Corrections’ supply of the drugs expired late last year, Miller said and the Times Dispatch reported Tuesday.

Many states are experiencing difficulties getting the drugs used for lethal injection. Some foreign manufacturers won’t ship to the U.S. if the drugs are going to be used for human executions.

In Virginia, death row inmates can choose the electric chair — one did last year — or lethal injection.

Del. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, had had a bill that would have banned use of the electric chair. It failed in a committee.

“This bill heads in the wrong direction,” Surovell said Tuesday of Miller’s bill. “Instead of debating ways to make it easier to use an antiquated 19th century method of executing human beings, we ought to be talking about ways to make our system more humane.”

He called the electric chair “a creepy device” and described in rather graphic terms the effects electrocution can have on the human body.

Only four states, Surovell said, still allow the electric chair — Virginia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina.

Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, also said electrocution is inhumane.

“We put our dogs to sleep, to death, better, in a more humane fashion, than what we’re now going to do to another human being,” Morrissey said. “It is wrong, it is horrific, it is barbaric, and we ought not be a party to that.”

Miller said some of the bill’s opponents were really debating the death penalty, not the specific issues in his bill.

“The death penalty is never an easy issue,” he said. “(But) what this bill is about is about process. It’s about fulfilling a court order, a court order that is simply reserved for the absolute worst of the worst in our society.”

The House engrossed Miller’s bill on a voice vote, which means it advanced and will get a final, recorded vote on Wednesday. If passed, it will go to the Senate.

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