State lawmakers continue re-evaluating the death penalty

Photo of the New Hampshire State Capitol

We’re less than a quarter into 2018, and the movement to end the death penalty has already made major strides in state capitols around the country.

In Utah, a Republican-sponsored repeal bill passed out of a House committee for the first time ever. Two years ago, Utah came close to ending the death penalty but ran out of time before getting to the House. This year, Utah’s session was extra short, but with strong backing from conservative lawmakers and civic leaders, the state is primed and ready to take repeal the rest of the way in 2019.

Washington’s death penalty also appears to be on its last legs. The Senate voted ‘yes’ on a repeal bill and so did a House committee, leaving just one final hurdle left. But like in Utah, Washington lawmakers ran out of time before they could get the bill to the Governor’s desk. The state, however, was a veritable echo chamber of voices calling for repeal, from families of murder victims, law enforcement, newspaper editorial boards, and, recently, from Kirk Bloodsworth, who had the personal experience of being exonerated from death row. Stay tuned for what is sure to be an exciting campaign next year.

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Lawmakers across the country re-evaluating the death penalty

Marc at MT capitol

EJUSA’s Marc Hyden speaks at the Montana State Capitol in advance of a hearing to repeal the death penalty.

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.

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It was the most profound thing I will ever do

Sandy & Shari

Delegate Sandy Rosenberg and EJUSA Executive Director Shari Silberstein, shortly after the Maryland legislature passed death penalty repeal

Repealing the death penalty in Maryland was an arduous task that took many years – with many ups and downs. It culminated in 2013, when the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 276, Death Penalty Repeal – Substitution of Life Without the Possibility of Parole, with the crucial support of Gov. Martin O’Malley. But that historic action came after years of work by many individuals, organizations, consultants, and elected officials.

Doing away with capital punishment in Maryland was a milestone in the national abolition movement. Five other states had ended the death penalty in the years leading up to 2013. The decision in Maryland – which sits south of the Mason-Dixon Line and had carried out several executions in the near past –sent a signal across the country that repeal would gain momentum.

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