Abolish the death penalty now
Abolish the death penalty now

Moments ago, the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate vot­ed for the third con­sec­u­tive year to adopt leg­is­la­tion that per­ma­nent­ly abol­ish­es the death penal­ty in Wash­ing­ton State, acknowl­edg­ing and cement­ing an Octo­ber 2018 State Supreme Court deci­sion that con­vert­ed all death sen­tences to life sen­tences.

Sen­ate Bill 5339, spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Reuven Car­lyle, passed on a vote of twen­ty-eight to eigh­teen, with three excused, after a fair­ly low-key floor debate, with Sen­a­tor Karen Keis­er, Pres­i­dent Pro Tem­pore, presiding.

The roll call was as follows:

SB 5339
Death penal­ty elimination
Sen­ate vote on 3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 28; Nays: 18; Excused: 3

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bil­lig, Car­lyle, Cleve­land, Con­way, Darneille, Das, Dhin­gra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hunt, Keis­er, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, Mul­let, Muz­za­ll, Nguyen, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Stan­ford, Walsh, War­nick, Well­man, Wil­son (Claire)

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Beck­er, Braun, Brown, For­tu­na­to, Hobbs, Hon­ey­ford, King, O’Ban, Pad­den, Rivers, Schoesler, Shel­don, Short, Takko, Van De Wege, Wag­oner, Wil­son (Lyn­da), Zeiger

Excused: Sen­a­tors Erick­sen, Holy, McCoy

Like last year, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Dean Takko, Kevin Van De Wege, and Steve Hobbs vot­ed against abo­li­tion. Their votes were off­set by Repub­li­cans Mau­reen Walsh, Brad Hawkins, and Judy War­nick, who vot­ed aye. The cham­ber’s newest Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor, Ron Muz­za­ll, (R‑10th Dis­trict: Island Coun­ty) also vot­ed aye, break­ing with his pre­de­ces­sor Bar­bara Bai­ley, who cast a nay vote last year.

So, in total, four Repub­li­cans crossed the aisle this year to sup­port abo­li­tion, while three Democ­rats crossed the aisle to defeat it.

Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Doug Erick­sen and Jeff Holy missed the vote, as did Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor John McCoy. Erick­sen and Holy vot­ed nay last year, while McCoy vot­ed aye. Had they all been present and vot­ing, the vote this year on death penal­ty abo­li­tion would have been twen­ty-nine to twenty.

Research com­mis­sioned by the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute in 2018 found an over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans of all polit­i­cal per­sua­sions in sup­port of life in prison alter­na­tives to the death penal­ty. 69% endorsed a form of life in prison as a pun­ish­ment for heinous mur­ders, while just 24% expressed a pref­er­ence for retain­ing the death penal­ty, which was sub­se­quent­ly struck down by the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court, as men­tioned earlier.

“For more than ten years, I have worked with col­leagues to help build con­sen­sus that mov­ing beyond the death penal­ty is in the best inter­est of the peo­ple of this state,” Car­lyle said in a state­ment sent to NPI. “I’m deeply appre­cia­tive of the thought­ful and gra­cious con­ver­sa­tion with the fam­i­lies of vic­tims, and the recog­ni­tion that this is a moral, pol­i­cy, finan­cial and com­mu­ni­ty issue that requires deep reflec­tion and a com­mit­ment to ele­vate the civic discourse.”

“I’m hon­ored to have spon­sored this mea­sure for many years because we as a civic soci­ety have moved beyond the death penalty.”

“This leg­is­la­tion rep­re­sents us tak­ing a stand and tak­ing the death penal­ty off the books. I’m hon­ored the Sen­ate has passed this for the third time in three years, bring­ing us in line with the posi­tion of the gov­er­nor and the courts.”

“The Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court has struck down the death penal­ty four times, and until now, we repeat­ed­ly tried to ‘fix’ the legal prob­lems,” Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son said. “Enough is enough. This bill gives clar­i­ty to pros­e­cu­tors and the pub­lic, end­ing the cycle of try­ing to fix this bro­ken and irrepara­ble law. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives can send a pow­er­ful mes­sage that the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton state are part of the nation­wide move­ment to use finite crim­i­nal jus­tice resources in ways that are fair, equi­table, and effective.”

Pri­or to Sen­ate Bill 5339’s pas­sage, sev­er­al Repub­li­can sen­a­tors rose to decry the idea of Wash­ing­ton State join­ing the rest of the civ­i­lized world in doing away with a bar­bar­ic and anti­quat­ed pun­ish­ment. Sev­er­al talked about doing right by the vic­tims of heinous mur­ders, argu­ing that tak­ing away the “ulti­mate pun­ish­ment” did­n’t make sense. But what does not make any sense is spend­ing enor­mous sums of mon­ey to kill peo­ple who are con­vict­ed of killing oth­er people.

An eye for an eye is not jus­tice. The death penal­ty does not make our com­mu­ni­ties safer. It does not bring clo­sure to vic­tims. It does not deter crime. And it can­not be reversed or undone in the event that our judi­cial sys­tem makes a mis­take and sen­tences an inno­cent per­son for a mur­der they did not commit.

Advances in foren­sic sci­ence and DNA evi­dence notwith­stand­ing, courts of law are run by human beings, and human beings make mis­takes. There is no way to guar­an­tee that a per­son con­vict­ed of mur­der is actu­al­ly guilty. Con­se­quent­ly, it is imper­a­tive that we do away with the death penal­ty, as oth­er democ­ra­cies around the world have done, and sen­tence peo­ple con­vict­ed of mur­der to life in prison.

It’s heart­en­ing to see this bill pass once again with bipar­ti­san sup­port. Thanks to the four Repub­li­cans who put their prin­ci­ples first and vot­ed aye.

The Sen­ate has done its duty to push an impor­tant, long over­due human rights advance for­ward once more. Now the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives must act and send this noble leg­is­la­tion to Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee for his signature.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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