State lawmakers are considering a measure that would repeal Washington’s death penalty. The Senate Law and Justice Committee will discuss Senate Bill 5339 today in Olympia. The proposal follows a state Supreme Court decision that ruled the policy as unconstitutional, arbitrary and racially biased. Olympia correspondent Austin Jenkins talked about this repeal effort with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick.
The proposal is needed, Jenkins said, because the court’s ruling left open the possibility for the Legislature to craft a constitutional death-penalty statute.
“Opponents of the death penalty feel like, for once and for all, they want to clear this law from the books and make it clear that Washington no longer is going to be a death-penalty or capital-punishment state,” Jenkins said.
And state Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants it off the table altogether, too. “He’s been a longtime opponent of the death penalty,” Jenkins said.
The bill on the table today was a request from Ferguson. In a recent interview with Jenkins on TVW, Ferguson said other states have repealed the measure and Washington should follow suit.
“The death penalty is a high profile issue, and I think as a state we should reach a decision on the death penalty,” he told Jenkins. “Other states are doing it. The Nebraska Legislature in the last couple years, overwhelmingly Republican, voted to repeal the death penalty. I think Washington state should join those states.”
Currently, 30 states have death-penalty statutes in place, Jenkins noted; 20 states have either abolished it or their statutes have been overturned by the courts.
“This is clearly an issue that divides the Legislature,” Jenkins said, adding that it doesn’t necessarily fall along partisan lines.
There is at least one proposal on the table to allow the death penalty in “unusual and extreme cases,” Jenkins noted. Republican Sen. Keith Wagoner proposes a bill to allow the death penalty for people who are already incarcerated.
But Jenkins says there aren’t enough votes for a death penalty “fix.”
“There hasn’t been a real appetite for this in the House,” Jenkins said of the proposed repeal.
Last year, on a bipartisan vote, the Washington Senate voted for repeal. But the issue did not get a vote in the House. That was followed by the court’s ruling in October, striking down the statute.
“And I don’t think there’s more interest,” Jenkins said. “In fact, I think there’s less interest now that the court has ruled.”
Listen to the full conversation above.