Five states — Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Washington, and Georgia — are all taking another look at their death penalty and actually debating whether it’s worth it, morally or financially. In four of those five states, bills that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with sentences of life without parole are now under consideration. Even more surprising is that in many cases the bills have been introduced by conservatives. Just three months after an election in which abolitionists suffered defeat in three states, the tide appears to be shifting.
In Montana earlier this week, Republican Rep. Adam Hertz introduced a bill to repeal and replace, saying, “The death penalty system, like so many government programs, is wasteful, ineffective, and unjust.” A similar measure failed in the House two years ago, but this time no one testified against the bill.
There are two men on death row, one who has been there for 34 years, the other 25 years.
In Colorado, a Democratic state senator has introduced a bill that would repeal the death penalty for crimes committed after July 1. Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman introduced SB 95 explaining it was something “I have personally been wanting to pass all the years that I’ve been in the legislature.” Its future is uncertain, however, because Republicans have a one-seat majority in the Senate, and the Senate Judiciary chairman who supports the death penalty, told the Denver Post, “I find it hard to see how it would successfully come out of committee.”
There are three death row inmates in Colorado. Its last execution, by lethal injection, was in 1997.
In Kansas, Republican Rep. Steven Becker also introduced a bill that would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole for anyone convicted after July 1. The Hutchinson News reports that House Bill 2167 has 15 sponsors, including conservative and moderate Republicans, as well as Democrats.
The last execution in Kansas was in 1965. There are 10 people on death row.
In Washington, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the Seattle Times, “I’ve become increasingly frustrated that the Legislature refuses to take any kind of vote on this issue,” after he, his predecessor, and Gov. Jay Inslee held a news conference calling on legislators to enact a law to repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole. Republicans control the Senate by one vote, and Democrats have control of the House, 50-48, and at this point, it appears that neither body is willing to debate the legislation first. In the meantime, Gov. Inslee, who in 2014 instituted a moratorium on executions, has been issuing reprieves for inmates whose executions are upcoming.
Washington’s last execution was in 2010. There are eight people on death row.
In 2016, Georgia executed nine prisoners, more than any other state. And last month, a group calling itself Georgia Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, held a news conference to demand that the state examine its death penalty. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Republican Rep. Brett Harrell said that “I am skeptical of our government’s ability to implement efficient and effective programs, and so a healthy skepticism of our state’s death penalty is warranted.” While stopping short of calling for a moratorium, the group is simply asking the state to study the death penalty and its efficacy.
There are 58 people on Georgia’s death row.