As state legislatures resume their work, many are considering death penalty legislation. Below are updates from a few states that have introduced repeal legislation. Each is at a different stage in the process, and not all will come to fruition this year. However, the geographic diversity of where these bills are being considered is in and of itself an indicator of how widespread the concern is that the death penalty is a broken system that needs to be examined.
On February 11, New Hampshire came one step closer to repealing the death penalty. In a 14-3 vote, the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice committee overwhelmingly voted favor of House Bill 1170. The bill had strong bipartisan support with a majority of members from both sides of the aisle voting in the bill's favor.
However, the fight is far from over. After the vote, the bill's prime sponsor, committee vice chair State Rep. Robert Renny Cushing, said "It's been a long process and we still have a long ways to go." The bill is expected to go to the House floor for a vote in early March.
Several legislators who previously opposed death penalty repeal have spoken out about why they have changed their minds this time around:
Criminal Justice Committee Chair Laura Pantelakos said racial inequities in the system led her to change her vote, citing different outcomes in recent cases for a black and a white defendant. Pantelakos, who has a grandson about to become a police officer, asked, “Why is a police officer’s life more valuable than an engineer’s?”
Rep. Dennis Fields said he was swayed by the families of murder victims who testified they did not want another life taken in their names. He added, “I do not want to take another life; I’m not God.”
House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, a 30-year veteran in law enforcement, also changed his mind, saying, “I would like to think with age comes wisdom. So today I will be voting for repeal.” He added after the vote, “It really is a barbaric practice and the time is now to put it aside, and I think to give somebody life imprisonment so they can think every day about what they’ve done is more of a punishment than ending their life.”
Republican Representative Robbie Parsons, who voted to expand the death penalty in the past, ultimately found the inequities in the system unacceptable and also voted for repeal.
New Hampshire residents: It's not too late to take action. Join the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and contact your state representatives telling them to vote in favor of repealing the death penalty.
One of our nation’s smallest states, Delaware, is also one of the worst when it comes to the death penalty. Delaware ranks third in executions per capita and has the highest percent of minorities on death row in the entire country. Luckily there are abolitionists in Delaware working to change that.
Last year, the Delaware Senate passed Senate Bill 19, a bill to repeal the state’s death penalty. This year, the Delaware Repeal Project, a coalition of 28 organizations working to end the state’s death penalty, calls on the Delaware House to follow suit. They are joined by powerful voices such as Sister Helen Prejean, who recently visited Delaware and cited its death penalty as one of the worst in the nation. They are joined by individuals like Kristin Froehlich, who lost her brother to murder and who explains how the death penalty is a false promise for victims’ families. They are even joined by the state’s largest newspaper, the Delaware News Journal, which has called on the Delaware House to pass the bill and repeal the death penalty.
Now Delaware needs your voice. Over the next several weeks, the Delaware Repeal Project asks abolitionists everywhere to help finish this campaign. Using patch-through technology, you’ll call Delaware voters and persuade them to leave messages in support of repeal with their legislators. From the comfort of your own home, using only a phone and a computer you can help make Delaware the 7th state in 7 years to repeal the death penalty. Join the Delaware Repeal campaign today by signing up here or contacting Field Director Sean Dwyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302.388.8576.
It is clear that the support for abolition is high in Kansas. At the start of this year’s legislative session, the Senate Judiciary held a hearing on SB 126, the Senate bill to repeal the death penalty and the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty (KCADP) put forth an excellent panel of experts to testify. But Kansas is also seeing a bill, similar in topic to other states that would expedite the appeals process and thus expedite executions in a state that has not executed anyone since 1965.
After strong opposition testimony and statements were given in Committee and on the floor, Senate bill 257 (House bill 2389) did pass and will be headed to the House sometime soon. Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City says: "I recoil with a certain horror at [the thought of] the family of someone executed by the state having to go before the committee and ask for recompense to be rendered [for] their innocent, deceased family member or friend." Even Sen. Tom Holland, who supports the Kansas death penalty, couldn’t support SB257/HB 2389 because it would "severely weaken the very integrity of that law."
The Senate's eight Democrats voted against the bill and were joined in their opposition by Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg; Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia; Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick; Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka; and Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker. KCADP had a great turn out of supporters at the hearing and senate vote expressing opposition. The bill wouldn’t apply to those already on death row. Kansas hasn’t completed the initial appeals for any of the nine people currently on death row, and worthy of repeating, Kansas hasn’t executed anyone since reinstating the death penalty 20 years ago.
We will keep you updated as legislation moves in Kansas.
Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, has filed legislation in the House this year to end executions in Kentucky. Rep. Floyd is the first Republican since 1980 to be the primary sponsor of repeal legislation. He argues that repeal legislation fits into the conservative platform on limited government and fiscal prudence. Kentucky Lawmakers met February 12, 2014 at the Capitol Annex Building in Frankfort for a press conference. State Rep. David Floyd along with State Rep. Julie Raque Adams and State Senator Gerald Neal, a democrat and former supporter of executions, attended the press conference. Michael Von Allmen, an exonerated inmate who spent 11 years in prison and 16 more years on parole, spoke at the conference. In addition, murder victim families attended in support of abolishing the death penalty.
A bill to repeal the death penalty narrowly failed in the House State Affairs Committee on February 21, 2014 by a vote of 7-6. South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty's executive director, Denny Davis, says that they have worked very hard to get the repeal bill this far with a lot of help from legislators, attorneys, Catholic Bishops, as well as most main line religious denominations. Their efforts to build support for repeal in upcoming legislative sessions will continue. “We kill people who kill! We can do better than this as citizens and as people of faith,” Davis proclaimed.