A group of bipartisan lawmakers in Washington state on Monday, Jan. 16, announced plans to introduce new legislation that would abolish the death penalty in their state.
The proposed bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tina Orwall and Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia, would oust capital punishment as a sentencing option for individuals guilty of committing aggravated murder and instead mandate a life sentence without the possibility of parole, according to KOMO News. The law, however, would not be retroactive, so inmates who are already sentenced to death will not be spared.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, along with Republicans and Democrats from both chambers of the state legislature, have argued that capital punishment has become too expensive and hasn’t proven to deter serious crimes. Republican Sen. Maureen Walsh went so far as to call the method ineffective and “outdated.”
“Not only is life-without-parole more cost-effective, it also offers the certainty that is an essential element of justice,” Walsh said in a statement released by Ferguson’s office.
In 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, sparing death-row inmates from execution until the ban is lifted, KOMO News reported. Washington state hasn’t executed a single inmate since 2010 and data from the Death Penalty Information Center showed that only five inmates have been executed since the state re-established the death penalty in 1975.
“Death-penalty sentences are unequally applied in the state of Washington, they are frequently overturned and they are always costly,” Inslee said. “I could not in good conscience allow executions to continue under my watch as governor under these conditions.”
Washington would join 19 other states including Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland in its decision to outlaw capital punishment, according to The Hill.
Use of the death penalty has declined dramatically in recent years, although five states — Texas, Florida, Missouri, Georgia and Alabama — put inmates to death in 2016. The number of death sentences overall also has taken a nosedive. For instance, 295 inmates were sentenced to death in 1998, compared to just 49 inmates in 2015, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice statistics.
Not everyone is on board with abolishing Washington’s death penalty. Republican Sen. Steve O’Ban opposes the move to end capital punishment and thinks the method should be used on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s obviously a power the government takes soberly,” O’Ban said. “But, if we value human life, the only appropriate sanction for the most serious crime of taking that precious individual life is the death penalty and should be retained for the most serious cases.”