Photo by Visitor7/Wikimedia

Photo by Visitor7/Wikimedia

Proposal to eliminate the death penalty passes the Senate

After passionate floor debate, the bill moves to the House.

A bill to eliminate the death penalty in Washington state is a step closer to being signed into law.

SB 6052 passed by a slim majority vote of 26-22 that came on Wednesday evening, just before the midnight deadline to move bills out of their legislative chamber of origin.

“I have no sympathy for people who kill people; that is not why I’m doing this,” said Senator Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, one of the bill’s sponsors during floor debate. “My motivation is simply that this is flawed policy.”

As justification for the bill, Walsh pointed to inequality between large and small counties in their ability to pursue death penalty cases and instances where innocent people who were wrongly sentenced have been put to death. She also argued that some families of victims do not receive vindication from capital punishment.

Before the final vote, the bill went through dramatic procedural gymnastics. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane, introduced an amendment that would have allowed the voters to decide whether or not the death penalty should be repealed. Senators ultimately voted against this amendment.

Two other amendments by Padden and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-Battle Ground, were rejected during the bill’s discussion.

Lieutenant Governor and Senate President Cyrus Habib ruled that the amendments weren’t relevant to the bill, and therefore couldn’t be voted on.

One amendment brought by Padden would have made an exception to keep the death penalty for those who kill a law enforcement officer. Another amendment brought by Rivers would have allowed the person, once found guilty of aggravated first degree murder, to choose whether or not they want to die.

Several Republicans argued that maintaining the death penalty for those who kill police officers is necessary to maintain the rule of law. Sen. Tim Sheldon, D–Potlatch, cited four officers who were killed in a shooting in Lakewood in November, 2009, while Sen. Randi Becker, R–Enumclaw, said that officers are increasingly at risk in rural counties. “It’s open season on officers,” she said.

Sen. O’Ban argued that with eliminating the death penalty there would be a “loss of order and respect for the rule of law.”

The decision garnered bitter reactions from some Republicans. Senator Mark Schoesler, R-Spokane objected to Habib’s ruling to not hold a vote on the latter two amendments.

“I’m disappointed our debate on this issue was stifled today,” he said.

Schoesler also raised concerns over the judiciary’s ability to maintain sentences. “I have no trust in the judiciary that life without parole means life without parole.”

Lt. Gov. Habib and Senator Mark Miloscia, R-Auburn, both wore a cross on their foreheads to mark Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in Catholicism.

“Coincidentally this is Ash Wednesday when we are supposed to reflect on our sins,” Miloscia said. “I firmly believe that despite the evils people commit to each other, we must forgive them.”

Bills to eliminate the death penalty have been introduced in the legislature over recent years, but have never made it far.

In 2014, Governor Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on capital punishment.

“There has been growing, bipartisan support for ending Washington’s death penalty, and the Senate today voted to do just that,” Inslee wrote in a press release. “I hope Washington joins the growing number of states that are choosing to end the death penalty.”

“It is unfairly administered; expensive; and unavailable in wide swaths of our state,” Chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and co-sponsor of the bill, Senator Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle said of capital punishment in a press release. “Those convicted of aggravated first-degree murder should die in prison with no hope of parole. The taxpayers do not need to spend millions of dollars to hasten that death.”

As former Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Pedersen held the first hearing on a death penalty elimination bill in the House of Representatives in 2013, according to the release.

The bill now moves over to the state House, where it has until Feb. 23 to get passed out of committee.

One of the legislation’s sponsors, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D–Seattle, said after the vote that he is optimistic that it will be approved by the House. “I think there’s substantial support,” he said. “Many Republicans are openly advocating this position and I think the votes are there … I’m optimistic that it’s going to floor.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

More in Northwest

Black Lives Matter meets #MeToo

Columnist Marcus Harrison Green tells us about a troubling rift and the resulting rebirth in the local arm of the social movement.

Photo by Taylor McAvoy
Sexual assault survivors push legislative change

Seeking systematic reforms, victims spoke up this legislative session.

Legislators come to agreement on deadly force reform

The agreement between lawmakers, activists, and police amends the upcoming I-940 ballot initiative.

By Taylor McAvoy
New laws targeting sexual harassment await governor’s pen

Four key bills targeting sexual harassment passed both chambers and were waiting… Continue reading

By Taylor McAvoy
State Legislature passes last-minute budget deal and property tax cut

The plan includes $1 billion for public education and $400 million in tax cuts for property owners.

The matriarch of marijuana

Meet JoAnna McKee, a persistent voice in the ear of wary politicians who didn’t believe that marijuana was medicine. Until they met JoAnna, that is.

By Taylor McAvoy
Olympia stunner: Compromise over police use of force

It was not always a civil process, but two diametrically opposed groups managed to find common ground.

Legislature passes new protections for student newspapers

If signed, the new law will also protects student advisers who defend the free speech rights of student journalists.

By Taylor McAvoy
Washington State set to expand abortion coverage

With the governor’s signature, the Reproductive Parity Act will allow state funding for abortion and contraception services.

Governor Jay Inslee signs a ban on bump stocks on Tuesday, March. 6. Photo by Taylor McAvoy
Bump stock ban becomes law; semiautomatics bill up next

It will be illegal in Washington to sell or own devices that make semiautomatic guns fire more rapidly.

By Taylor McAvoy
Home healthcare worker bill approved by state Legislature

In protest, House Republicans refused to vote on the controversial bill.

By Taylor McAvoy
Lawmakers are now at odds over a Sound Transit car-tab fix

The Senate and House disagree over whether lost revenue from a lower fee should be offset right away.