State capitals are buzzing as lawmakers return for this year’s state legislative sessions. It’s no surprise that the death penalty is on the agenda in so many places, given the growing movement away from executions.
There has long been strong support for death penalty repeal in Kansas, but due to many circumstances, repeal bills haven’t received committee hearings in recent years. This year, a diverse range of Kansans – murder victims’ family members, faith leaders, those with law enforcement experience, and legal experts – were able to express their support for repeal in front of a House committee. The hearing room was standing room only with supporters of the bill, and those testifying in favor of repeal outnumbered opponents 9 to 1.
In Washington State, death penalty repeal legislation was introduced by a powerful coalition of bipartisan lawmakers as well as the Democratic Attorney General, his Republican predecessor, and the Governor.
Lawmakers in Montana pushed again for repeal this year, and EJUSA’s Marc Hyden testified at a committee hearing about Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty and the growing national movement of conservative support for repeal. Local conservatives also held a press conference to show their support for the measure. While the bill did not pass this session, neither did a bill to fix Montana’s execution protocol (in fact, no such bill was even introduced), so there is no means to carry out an execution in the state until 2019 at the earliest.
In addition to repeal bills, lawmakers in 5 states (Indiana, South Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia) are considering bills to exempt those with severe mental illness from the death penalty. Alabama and Florida are both struggling to bring their death penalty statutes into conformity with the Constitution, after the Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must decide death sentences. And lawmakers in Connecticut, New Mexico, and Maryland are poised to defeat efforts to reinstate their death penalty laws.