Recent Legislative Activity

NEW VOICES: Maryland's Former Speaker of the House Says "End Capital Punishment"

Casper Taylor, Jr., a long-time Maryland House of Delegates member and former supporter of the death penalty, has written an op-ed calling for the end of capital punishment in Maryland. “In 28 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, nine as speaker, I cast thousands of votes,” wrote Taylor. “I have few regrets. But there is one vote I wish I could take back - my 1978 vote to reinstate the death penalty in Maryland.”  Taylor continued, “Today, that vote haunts me. Since reinstatement, Maryland's 30 years of experience with the death penalty have been a colossal failure. I now believe that life in prison without the possibility of parole is a better alternative. The majority of Marylanders agree.”  The full op-ed may be read below:

Developments in Montana and New Mexico May Lead to Abolition of Death Penalty

Recent developments in Montana and New Mexico may affect the outcome of legislative efforts to abolish the death penalty.  In Montana, the Senate voted 27-23 to end the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole.  It is the second session in a row that such a proposal has cleared the Senate.  New Mexico’s House passed a bill replacing capital punishment with life in prison without parole and the bill is pending in a Senate committee.  Legislatures in both states cited the risk of executing innocent people and the excessive costs of capital punishment as reasons for abolishing the death penalty.  

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said while he would have vetoed such a bill a few years ago, he may sign a repeal bill if it reaches his desk now.  "I'm struggling with my position, but I definitely have softened my view on the death penalty.” He has found the alternative of life in prison without parole “to be a strong punishment” and called the cost of the death penalty “a valid reason in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”

New Mexico House Votes to Repeal Death Penalty

The New Mexico House of Representatives voted February 11 to repeal the death penalty.  After a more than two-hour debate, the House voted 40 to 28 in favor of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole.  This is the third time in recent years New Mexico’s House of Representatives has voted to ban capital punishment.  House Bill 285 will now move to the senate. 

States Introduce Bills to Abolish Death Penalty

Several states have recently introduced legislation to abolish or limit the death penalty.  Bills to end capital punishment have been introduced in at least eight states: Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, New Hampshire, Maryland, Washington, and Kansas.  For some of these states, the high costs of the death penalty has been an important factor in the legislative debates.  For example, Colorado’s bill to abolish the death penalty specifies that the money saved from not pursuing executions could be used for solving cold cases. 

NEW VOICES: Judge Ronald Reagan Challenges Nebraska's Death Penalty

Before his retirement from the court, Judge Ronald Reagan had sentenced a defendant to death and kept his views on the death penalty to himself.  However, as Nebraska is considering a bill to abolish capital punishment, he spoke in favor of its repeal.  "I'm a citizen here. I'd just as soon not have a death penalty," Judge Reagan testified. "It just seems to me that people are recognizing that the death penalty is not an appropriate punishment in a civilized society." Calling capital punishment “state-sanctioned revenge,” Judge Reagan spoke of sentencing a man to death by the electric chair in 1984 despite his lifelong opposition to the death penalty “on philosophical grounds,” because judges are “supposed to apply the law that is given to us,” and “aren’t supposed to be political activists.”  Reagan testified, “I always felt that I couldn’t say anything for 32 years,” and he believes other judges share his viewpoint but are barred from expressing or acting on their opinions while on the bench. 

Victims' Families Ask State to End Death Penalty and Solve Cold Cases Instead

A bill is being introduced in Colorado to end the state’s death penalty and to use the resultant savings to investigate the state's more than 1,300 unsolved crimes.  More than 500 residents who have lost friends and family to unsolved murders are pushing for the bill, which is expected to be introduced by House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann.  The proponents estimate that 3 in 10 killers in the state walk free, and catching more killers would be a more effective deterrent than capital punishment and a better use of state funds.  Weissman says abolishing capital punishment could save the state $2 million a year and local authorities another $2.5 million.  “Any other program that cost that much and was used so little would be the first to go,” said Weissman, whose 2007 version of the bill died narrowly on the House floor.  Howard Morton, of Families of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons, said, "Our position is very simple. Why talk about penalties when we haven't even caught [them]? Let's do first things first. These murderers are living in our neighborhoods."

California to Hold Public Hearings on Lethal Injection Procedures

The legal fight over California’s lethal injection process moved into a new phase as the state has given up its appeals and decided to follow the administrative rules to put the execution plan through public review.  The state must hold a series of public hearings, which effectively leaves San Quentin’s newly constructed execution chamber empty for the foreseeable future.  This is the latest development in California’s attempt to revise its lethal injection process; executions have remained on hold for nearly three years. 

NEW VOICES: One Year Later, New Jersey Prosecutors Find No Problem with Abolition of Death Penalty

In December 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in 40 years.  In commenting on the absence of capital punishment for one year, a number of state prosecutors found no problems with the new system.  "We have not viewed it as an impediment in the disposition of murder cases," said Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, who served on a state study commission that reviewed the death penalty. "As a practical matter, we have really seen no difference in the way we conduct our business in prosecuting murder cases."

 

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