It’s time: Put repeal of the death penalty up for a vote in the state Legislature.
A bipartisan coalition of state leaders has a simple request: Put the death penalty to a vote in the 2017 Legislature.
The timing is right. Gov. Jay Inslee has stopped signing death warrants, putting the victims’ families and the eight men on Washington’s death row in limbo. When he began the moratorium in 2014, he asked for a public conversation about the death penalty.
That conversation has been happening in Olympia, where bills to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a life sentence without parole have floated around for years — without being put to a vote. Quietly, the number of lawmakers in both parties who favor repeal has grown.
This should be the year. On Monday, an array of lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, supported state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s legislation for repeal. Joining in was Inslee and Ferguson’s predecessor, Republican Rob McKenna.
The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys asked last year for a public vote on capital punishment. Ultimately, voters might see the question on the ballot as an initiative.
But the Legislature should act first, and should repeal the death penalty. Lawmakers are elected to make tough decisions, yet they too often kick them to the initiative process.
A vote by lawmakers is certainly not unprecedented; the Legislature repealed the death penalty in 1913, only to have it reinstated, then abolished, then reinstated. Six state Legislatures — from deep blue Maryland to deep red Nebraska — have voted to repeal.
Last year, Sen. Mike Padden, the Spokane Republican who chairs the Judiciary committee, did not allow a hearing on a bill to repeal the death penalty, effectively shutting down the legislative conversation.
On Wednesday, Padden said he would “consider holding a hearing on the death penalty bill if and when the House,” which is controlled by Democrats, passes the bill first.
The death penalty is too important for legislative leaders like Padden to play partisan games. Nonetheless, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, should allow a vote in the House, where death penalty opponents say there are easily enough votes to repeal.
Lawmakers should be free to vote their conscience on the death penalty, weighing arguments about the cost, the disproportional use and morality of state-sanctioned death. Put it to a vote.