While I’m governor, there will not be a state sanctioned execution of a Washington State citizen, says Governor Jay Inslee.
"While I’m governor, there will not be a state sanctioned execution of a Washington State citizen," says Governor Jay Inslee. Office of Governor Jay Inslee

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With hopes that new Republican support will help push the question to a vote this year, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are proposing legislation to abolish the death penalty in Washington State.

"The evidence is absolutely clear that death penalty sentences are unequally applied, they are frequently overturned, and they are always costly," Inslee said at a press conference announcing the proposal today.

If passed, the bill would outlaw the death penalty in the state and replace it with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. It would not retroactively affect prisoners who are already on death row in Washington.

Capital punishment is still legal on the books of 31 states, including Washington. But in 2014, Inslee imposed a moratorium on executions in Washington, which he has promised to uphold as long as he is governor. If this bill passes, future executions would not be allowed but a future governor could theoretically undo Inslee's moratorium in order to allow executions of people who were already on death row.

Ferguson said six other states from both ends of the political spectrum have held legislative votes on the death penalty in the last 10 years. "It's time for the Washington State Legislature here to take that vote," he said.

A bipartisan group of state legislators—Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), Jaime Pedersen (D-Seattle), Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way), Maureen Walsh (R-Walla Walla), Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines)—stood alongside Inslee and Ferguson in support of the bill. So did Rob McKenna, the former Republican state attorney general, who lost to Inslee in the 2012 race for governor.

McKenna emphasized the cost and burden of death penalty cases that drag on and on. "Justice is delayed and delayed to the point where the system is broken," he said. "It isn't working."

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Miloscia cited his Catholic faith ("How do we show mercy to our enemies?") and Walsh said, "It's the fiscal conservative in me" that's led to her opposition to the death penalty. Miloscia said McKenna's support will help take the conversation, which has repeatedly failed to gain traction in Olympia, to "a different level." In recent years, state lawmakers have proposed similar legislation but have been unable to get a full legislative vote on the proposal.

Lawmakers are still gathering co-sponsors for the bill, Miloscia said, and it will be "dropped very soon." To pass, this bill will need hearings in the Law and Justice Committee of the Republican-controlled state senate and the Judiciary Committee of the Democratic-controlled state house.

According to the Associated Press's Rachel La Corte, Washington has executed 78 people, all men, since 1904.