It's taken four years since Governor Jay Inslee suspended the use of the death penalty in the state of Washington for the issue to gain any traction in the state legislature, but on Wednesday a bill to end capital punishment finally gained enough votes to pass the state senate.
One of the critical differences in this year's effort is that Democrat Jamie Pedersen chaired the Senate Law and Justice committee; Republican Senator Mike Padden had blocked such efforts when he held the position. Still, the bill passed with both Democrat and Republican votes. Last year, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Governor Jay Inslee launched a bipartisan effort to repeal the death penalty. They had the support of Republican former attorney general Rob McKenna, as well as Republican senators Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) and Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla).
For years, civil liberties groups have been arguing that the death penalty is not only costly, but racially biased. In 2017, Republican legislators cited religious and ethical reasons for their support of repealing the death penalty, as well as the high cost.
On Wednesday evening, state senators nearly voted to pass an amendment that would have put the issue to the voters through a referendum, but a tied vote was broken by Democratic senate president Cyrus Habib. Other amendments to allow capital punishment in the cases of those convicted of killing law enforcement and corrections officers failed, too.
"Today’s vote represents an evolution in thinking about the death penalty and I am grateful that we are making meaningful progress toward that goal," Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), a legislator who had introduced death penalty repeal bills in the state legislature for nearly a decade, said in a statement.
The bill still has to make it through the House, but the AP's Rachel LaCorte reports that it's due for a hearing on the House Judiciary Committee. Death penalty efforts have died in the House before, though usually with the explanation that it wasn't "the the right time" to move forward with the proposal.