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Northwest Lawmakers Grapple With Death Penalty Legislation


Four Bills in Washington’s legislature this year offer differing views on the death penalty following a state Supreme Court decision last year.  A similar debate is playing out in Oregon.


Companion bills in Washington’sHouse andSenate would replace a death sentence with life in prison without parole for anyone convicted of first degree aggravated murder. Senator Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat from Seattle, spoke before the Senate Law and Justice Committee.


“I think cleaning up our statues in a responsible way is a good step in terms of modernizing how our state statute reads on this issue,” he said.


Last year, the Washington’s Supreme Courtruled the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, citing racial bias and arbitrary application in its decision.


On Tuesday, the Catholic Bishops of Washington released a statement in support of Carlyle’s bill. The bishops group has long been on record as opposing capital punishment, while stating their deep concern for families and loved ones of victims of violent crimes, the group said in a statement.


Department of Corrections Secretary Dick Morgan spoke before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Tuesday on behalf of four other retired DOC Secretaries, who all say they support doing away with the death penalty in Washington. Morgan told the committee it takes more than 100 personnel to carry out an execution.


“The cost of managing those sentenced to death is extraordinarily high for the department. It requires a great deal of resources,” he said.


Two other companion bills in theHouse andSenate would convert death sentences to life without parole for anyone convicted of first degree aggravated murder. But two other companion bills maintain the death penalty in Washington. According to those proposals, the death penalty would only apply if a murder was committed by someone who is already incarcerated.


In Oregon, legislatorsare also mulling changes to the state’s death penalty. One plan could further limit the definition of aggravated murder -- the only crime punishable by death in Oregon. But a bill in that state’s legislature has yet to be formally introduced.