An effort to abolish the death penalty in Washington state got a new push this year with strong backing from the governor and attorney general, but as in previous years, the measure is expected to stall in the Legislature.
OLYMPIA — An effort to abolish the death penalty in Washington state got a new push this year with strong backing from the governor and attorney general, but as in previous years, the measure is expected to stall in the Legislature.
A House bill on the issue is set for a public hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but it’s not scheduled for a committee vote before a deadline Friday requiring most bills to be voted out of committees.
A Senate version of the bill has not been scheduled for a hearing, so it appears the measure will suffer the same fate as death-penalty repeal efforts in previous years.
“At some point I think we’re going to end the death penalty in this state. We’re unfortunately not going to do it this year,” said Democratic Rep. Laurie Jinkins, chairwoman of the judiciary committee.
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Without a promise that if the House passed its measure it would then receive a vote in the Senate, “there’s not a big reason to push people to vote for it when you know ultimately what’s going to happen,” Jinkins said.
Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in Washington state in 2014. As long as it’s in place, death row inmates will remain in prison rather than face execution.
Inslee late last year reprieved Clark Elmore, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl. Reprieves aren’t pardons and don’t commute the sentences of those condemned to death.
Elmore is the first death row inmate in the state to exhaust his appeals since the moratorium was put in place.
Republican Sen. Mike Padden, the chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he respects the various feelings people have surrounding the death penalty and thinks that costs and time spent on appeals could be streamlined.
“I’m not a zealot for the death penalty,” he said. “I think it should be reformed but I do think there are some heinous crimes where it should be on the table.”
Republicans hold a slight majority in the Senate, and Democrats hold a slight majority in the House.
There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904. The most recent execution in the state came in 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman.
The death penalty has been overturned or abolished in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The latest was Delaware, where the state Supreme Court last year declared the law unconstitutional.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said this week that he knew this latest repeal bill would have an uphill battle and that he is “deeply disappointed” that the measure has likely stalled, especially since it has bipartisan support in the House and the Senate.
Inslee and Ferguson were joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers in announcing support for the repeal legislation sponsored by Republican Mark Miloscia in the Senate and Democratic Rep. Tina Orwall in the House.
The proposed bills would remove capital punishment as a sentencing option for aggravated murder and mandate instead a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
A 2015 study from Seattle University found that death-penalty cases in the state cost $1 million more than similar cases where capital punishment is not sought.
Ferguson said he believes the current system is broken, and that “morally, it’s not the right position for the state of Washington to have a death penalty.”
“It’s past time to repeal it and more than past time for the Legislature to at least take a vote,” he said.