Speaker of the House Frank Chopp should allow a floor vote to repeal Washington’s death penalty. If not, that would be a major disappointment of the 2018 legislative session.
The death penalty should be repealed because of the disturbing inequity of its application around the state and the way it squanders public resources that could be used to actually deter crime.
This is not a failure of the state Senate, where a bipartisan majority voted 26-22 to approve Senate Bill 6052. And the state House Judiciary Committee approved the bill.
Time is short before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Thursday. Speaker Chopp told his caucus the House didn’t have enough votes. Yet, several supporters of the measure believe the repeal would pass if brought to a vote in the House.
The speaker should reconsider and put the repeal to a vote on the House floor.
If not, lawmakers will have to try again next year. Or perhaps those who believe Washington should repeal the death penalty will introduce an initiative for the ballot.
Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on executions in 2014, which helped restart this policy debate. But that does not bind future governors.
Death-penalty cases costs as much as $1 million dollars more to prosecute than the cost of non-death penalty cases for smiliar crimes. Only a handful of Washington counties can afford to consider pursuing that penalty in a murder case. Smaller counties couldn’t pursue the death penalty even if their prosecuting attorneys and their citizens wanted to.
After 27 years as a prosecutor in the state’s largest and wealthiest county, King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg has declared the death penalty broken and not fixable.
Support for the death penalty is at a historic low across the nation, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A Gallup poll found 55 percent support the death penalty, the lowest number since 1972. That might translate to a favorable statewide vote in Washington.
The idea also has gradually gained support in the Legislature, supporters agree.
“We’re so close,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines. “I feel like every year we introduce it, we get a little further along.”
There is much to do in the short time remaining, but Speaker Chopp should make time for a floor vote to repeal the death penalty.