Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Update on Recent Death Penalty Legislation in States

New Mexico:  A bill to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without parole has passed both chambers of the state legislature and awaits Governor Richardson’s decision as to whether to sign or veto.

Colorado: A bill to repeal the  death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment (and use the money saved from abolition to investigate cold cases) has passed the House Judiciary Committee.  It awaits a vote of the full House and has not yet been introduced into the  state Senate.

Kansas:  A bill to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without parole passed the Senate judiciary committee, but the full Senate voted to return the bill to committee for further study.  KS is a conservative state, but a leading senate Republican is championing abolition, so this might have a chance, but the decision to return the bill to committee ends possibility of passage this session.

Maryland:  A bill to abolish the death penalty and replace with life imprisonment passed the senate judiciary committee, but,  in the full senate an amendment passed that would retain the death penalty but require a higher degree of proof of guilt in capital cases.  That amended bill now goes to the House.  Conceivably, the MD House could pass the original bill, without the amendment, and the amendment would be fought over in reconciliation.  Polling shows the public in MD about even divided on abolition.

Montana: A bill to abolish the death penalty and replace with life imprisonment without parole has passed the Senate and goes to the House .  It faces a House Judiciary Committee hearing on 25 March.

Illinois: A bill to abolish the death penalty passed the House Judiciary Committee on 05 March.  No news yet on full House hearing.  IL previously had a 3 year moratorium on executions when a series of newspaper articles (investigation done by law students) found that the IL system was broken and had resulted in many miscarriages of justice.  There have been major attempts to reform the system that have proven cumbersome and costly, so IL may be ready for abolition.

Alaska: A bill to RESTORE the death penalty had hearings in Feb.  Chance of making it out of committee looks slim.

West Virginia:  A bill to restore the death penalty tried to bypass committe with a straight floor vote. That move failed and the bill has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee.

There are bills to abolish the death penalty that have not received any scheduled hearings yet in Connecticut, New Hampshire (which passed abolition in the late ’90s only to have the governor veto it), Texas, Washington State.  Bills to expand the death penalty in Virginia have passed but without the votes necessary to override the promised veto of Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

Here in Kentucky, the huge budget problems of the state are threatening the very existence of  the public defender program.  In light of this, and the level of legal expertise needed to defend in capital cases, legal experts and the state’s judges have urged the  governor to impose a 2 year moratorium on executions.

In North Carolina, where recent polling shows a majority in favor (for the first time) of abolishing the death penalty, there is a bill to exempt the mentally ill from the death penalty and a bill that would make it easier to show racial discrimination in the death penalty.  Neither have hearings scheduled.

Tennessee  has a number of reform (not repeal) bills that follow recommendations made by a two-year study commission. None of those bills have yet been scheduled for hearing.

Alabama has introduced a bill that would allow inmates to petition for DNA testing. No hearings scheduled.

In Missouri there is a bill for a 2 year moratorium on executions while the death penalty is studied by a commission.  A similar bill has been  introduced in Nevada.

Public opinion also seems to be turning against the death penalty (especially when the question offers the alternative of life without parole), although support is still MUCH higher in the U.S. than in the rest of the industrial world.  Support for capital punishment is strongest in the deep South, Texas, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming.  Opposition is strongest in the Northeast and the West Coast.  Shifts are happening in the MidWest and the Upper South.

When asked about their priorities for crime prevention, America’s police chiefs put the death penalty dead last (whether or not theoretically in favor of it being on the books)  at 1%.  The priorities of America’s police chiefs for curbing crime are: reducing drug use 31%; better economy & more jobs (17%); simplifying court rules (16%); longer prison sentences (15%); More police officers (10%); reducing guns (3%).


March 18, 2009 - Posted by | death penalty


  1. Hi there,
    Super post, Need to mark it on Digg


    Comment by Pett | March 20, 2009

  2. […] peace activist Michael Westmoreland-White has an interesting post on recent legislative efforts at his blog, […]

    Pingback by Gov. Richardson Ends Death Penaty In New Mexico | the big daddy weave | March 20, 2009

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