With several repeal measures passing across the country over recent years - Maryland most recently ended the death penalty in 2013 - optimism is high at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and among our abolitionist partners that another state will end the practice this year.
On January 16th, two states, Kansas and New Hampshire, held hearings in their capitals to consider legislation to repeal the death penalty. Both bills have bipartisan support from lawmakers and are being considered after extensive advocacy from abolition supporters.
In New Hampshire the volume of supporters turning out for the repeal bill hearing overwhelmed the capacity of the room; making it necessary for the committee to move the hearing to an auditorium in the state house. A week before the scheduled hearing, the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, NCADP, Equal Justice USA and numerous supporters put out the call to pack the House committee for the hearing. The sizeable turnout for the hearing sent an important message to lawmakers that death penalty repeal in New Hampshire is a top priority for their constituents. A committee vote on the New Hampshire bill is expected in the coming weeks.
The Kansas death penalty repeal hearing was also a big success. Numerous impressive witnesses testified and supporters also filled the room. Unfortunately, Kansas unexpectedly is also facing legislation this month that ignores the evidence that has spurred this encouraging trend toward repeal– that the risk of executing an innocent person is genuine and continuing the practice of capital punishment jeopardizes the integrity of our justice system.
Indeed, one week after Kansas’ Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed its bill to repeal the state’s death penalty, the committee considered legislation that would shorten the timelines for death row appellants to file motions, even among indigent defendants who are awaiting the appointment of counsel. The proposal also places an unreasonably high burden on a person seeking to prove his or her innocence on appeal, a burden some legal scholars consider unconstitutional.
Reports from this most recent hearing are encouraging, however. Abolitionist supporters put on a strong show and surprised the committee’s chair, and the bill’s sponsor, with the large number of strong and expert testifiers opposing the bill. Those who testified at the hearing in opposition to the damaging bill outnumbered those who supported it.
Ronald Wurtz, testifying on behalf of the Kansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, summed up the opposition’s position well. “Errors of omission are inevitable when sufficient time is not allowed to review, research, reflect, and confer. When a human life is on the line, it seems that extra care must be taken to insure reliability of the final decision….”
In the weeks and months ahead more death penalty related legislation will percolate in the states– both supportive of limiting the death penalty and expanding its reach. The National Coalition will be on top of those developments, and by joining the 90 Million Strong Campaign you won’t miss the latest news.
Tags: #Abolition campaign