NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Legislation to abolish death penalty won’t get a vote in the Washington State House in 2019

Leg­is­la­tion that would remove Wash­ing­ton’s now-unen­force­able death penal­ty statute from the books will not get a vote in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the sec­ond straight year because of Speak­er of the House Frank Chop­p’s oppo­si­tion.

Sen­ate Bill 5339, prime spon­sored by Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Reuven Car­lyle and request­ed by Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son, passed out of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate back in Feb­ru­ary. It even­tu­al­ly received a hear­ing in the House Pub­lic Safe­ty Com­mit­tee and then secured a “do pass” rec­om­men­da­tion.

After that, the bill land­ed in the House Rules Com­mit­tee, where it spent sev­er­al weeks in lim­bo before advanc­ing to the floor. Despite get­ting on the House floor cal­en­dar, how­ev­er, it will not receive a vote, even though House Democ­rats now wield a large major­i­ty of fifty-sev­en. Sources tell NPI that’s because Chopp is adamant­ly opposed to the bill and does not want it to pass.

Today was the dead­line for pol­i­cy bills from the oppo­site cham­ber to receive con­sid­er­a­tion. With 5 PM hav­ing come and gone, we’re past the point where Sen­ate Bill 5339 is eli­gi­ble to be con­sid­ered in 2019 under leg­isla­tive rules.

Last year, when House Democ­rats held a slim major­i­ty of fifty to forty-eight, Chop­p’s pub­lic ratio­nale for not hold­ing a vote on abo­li­tion (as stat­ed at a town hall in the 43rd Dis­trict) was that the votes sim­ply did­n’t exist to pass the bill.

Although Chop­p’s seat­mate Sen­a­tor Ped­er­sen dis­put­ed that ratio­nale, Chopp nonethe­less stuck to it. Now, how­ev­er, the cau­cus has fifty-sev­en mem­bers, which means sev­en mem­bers of the cau­cus can oppose a bill and it can still pass if the remain­ing fifty mem­bers are present and vot­ing yes.

Sup­port for abol­ish­ing the death penal­ty in Wash­ing­ton State is very high, accord­ing to NPI research. Last year, 69% of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans sur­veyed told our poll­ster that they pre­ferred one of three life in prison alter­na­tives to just 24% who said they pre­ferred the death penal­ty, while 8% said they were not sure.

(Read more about our find­ing.)

Sen­ate Bill 5339 would replace the death penal­ty with life in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole, which is the alter­na­tive endorsed by respon­dents in our poll.

We’re very dis­ap­point­ed that Sen­ate Bill 5339 isn’t get­ting a vote in the Wash­ing­ton State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives this year. How­ev­er, next year, there will be a new Speak­er, and Sen­ate Bill 5339 will car­ry over to the next ses­sion because the 2020 ses­sion will be a con­tin­u­a­tion of the cur­rent Leg­is­la­ture.

We will work dur­ing the inter­im to con­tin­ue build­ing momen­tum for abo­li­tion, keep­ing in mind that the arc of the moral uni­verse is long, but it bends towards jus­tice, as Theodore Park­er and the Rev­erend Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. said.

POSTSCRIPT: McClatchy’s James Drew has filed a sto­ry about SB 5339 get­ting blocked from a vote, in which Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son and Sen­a­tor Reuven Car­lyle both state (on the record) that there were enough votes to pass it.

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