Abolish the death penalty now
Abolish the death penalty now

A well-craft­ed house­keep­ing bill that would abol­ish a num­ber of uncon­sti­tu­tion­al statutes has passed out of the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate with bipar­ti­san sup­port as one of the cham­ber’s ini­tial acts of the 2023 leg­isla­tive session.

Sub­sti­tute Sen­ate Bill 5087, prime spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Jamie Ped­er­sen (D‑43rd Dis­trict: Seat­tle) and request­ed by Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son, would for­mal­ly scrub a list of statutes no longer in effect from the Revised Code of Washington.

These statutes include the death penal­ty, deemed uncon­sti­tu­tion­al by the Supreme Court as applied, along with the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al two-thirds scheme to raise rev­enue that Tim Eyman turned into a series of initiatives.

Thir­ty-four sen­a­tors said yes to strik­ing these uncon­sti­tu­tion­al statutes from our books, while four­teen were opposed. The roll call on SB 5087 was as follows:

SSB 5087
Defects and omissions
Sen­ate vote on 3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 34; Nays: 14; Excused: 1

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tor Bil­lig, Boehnke, Cleve­land, Con­way, Dhin­gra, Frame, Hasegawa, Hawkins, Hunt, Kauff­man, Keis­er, King, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, Lovick, Mul­let, Muz­za­ll, Nguyen, Nobles, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Robin­son, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Stan­ford, Trudeau, Valdez, Wag­oner, War­nick, Well­man, Wil­son (Claire), Wil­son (Jeff)

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tor Braun, Dozi­er, For­tu­na­to, Gildon, Holy, MacEwen, McCune, Pad­den, Rivers, Schoesler, Short, Tor­res, Van De Wege, Wil­son (Lyn­da)

Excused: Sen­a­tor Shewmake

The only Demo­c­rat to vote nay was Kevin Van De Wege (D‑24th Dis­trict: Olympic Penin­su­la). Repub­li­cans were split. Most of the cau­cus vot­ed nay, but Kei­th Wag­oner, Judy War­nick, Jeff Wil­son, Matt Boehnke, and Ron Muz­za­ll vot­ed yea.

Sen­a­tor Shew­make (D‑42nd Dis­trict: What­com Coun­ty) was excused.

Repub­li­cans attempt­ed to amend the bill to remove the death penal­ty from the list of statutes being elim­i­nat­ed in the bill, but the amend­ment failed on a voice vote, with Sen­a­tors Jamie Ped­er­sen and Yas­min Trudeau speak­ing against it.

No oth­er amend­ments were offered to the bill.

Ped­er­sen not­ed in his speech on final pas­sage that the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court has been urg­ing the Gov­er­nor and Leg­is­la­ture to clean up the state’s books for a long time now and com­mend­ed the leg­is­la­tion to the body.

Repub­li­can Mike Pad­den explained dur­ing a speech on the amend­ment that he only object­ed to the elim­i­na­tion of the death penal­ty statute, because it was struck down as applied rather than struck down as writ­ten, and could sup­port the rest of the bill. How­ev­er, the real­i­ty is that there is no just, equi­table, or fair way to apply the death penal­ty. The death penal­ty is immoral and irre­spon­si­ble, and its removal from our books is an absolute­ly nec­es­sary and appro­pri­ate action.

In 2018, NPI found in its spring statewide poll that a whop­ping 69% of like­ly Wash­ing­ton vot­ers sup­port­ed life in prison alter­na­tives to the death penal­ty, with only 24% express­ing sup­port for the death penal­ty. Not long after we released that research, the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court struck down the death penal­ty as uncon­sti­tu­tion­al and con­vert­ed all death sen­tences to life sen­tences, mak­ing Gov­er­nor Inslee’s mora­to­ri­um on the death penal­ty permanent.

Though the death penal­ty has been off the table as an option for pros­e­cu­tors for years, the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al statute allow­ing it has remained on the books. The Sen­ate has repeat­ed­ly vot­ed to get rid of the death penal­ty, but the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has inex­plic­a­bly failed to fol­low suit, even though the votes exist to get the bill to Gov­er­nor Inslee’s desk. Hope­ful­ly, the fourth time will be the charm and we’ll be able to cel­e­brate this bill being signed into law in a few weeks.

We’ll also be able to cel­e­brate the removal from our books of the right wing’s long-run­ning scheme to mess with our Con­sti­tu­tion’s major­i­ty vote require­ment by spec­i­fy­ing a two-thirds vote thresh­old for rev­enue bills in clear vio­la­tion of Arti­cle II, Sec­tion 22, which says: “No bill shall become a law unless on its final pas­sage the vote be tak­en by yeas and nays, the names of the mem­bers vot­ing for and against the same be entered on the jour­nal of each house, and a major­i­ty of the mem­bers elect­ed to each house be record­ed there­on as vot­ing in its favor.”

This scheme, first imposed via I‑601 in the 1990s and reen­act­ed with Tim Eyman’s I‑960, I‑1053, and I‑1185, was intend­ed to give Repub­li­cans the equiv­a­lent of a leg­isla­tive veto over bills to raise rev­enue for Wash­ing­ton’s essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices. Now it’s final­ly on the verge of going away.

NPI thanks all of the mem­bers of the Sen­ate who vot­ed for this leg­is­la­tion today. Abol­ish­ing the death penal­ty and clean­ing up our books is one of our 2023 leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties, and we’re pleased to see it receive ear­ly floor action.

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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