OLYMPIA – Washington is one step closer to ending the death penalty after a Senate panel approved a bill Thursday to repeal capital punishment.
Whether the bill, if passed into law, would automatically commute death sentences for Washington’s nine death row inmates is unclear. That has happened in other states that abolished the death penalty, said Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, but it would be the court’s decision.
The committee considered an amendment to allow the state to impose the death penalty for the aggravated first-degree murder of police officers, and a second amendment to also allow it for the murder of correctional officers.
Ultimately, the two exceptions were not included in the bill that passed the committee.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, also proposed an amendment that would have sent the decision to voters through a referendum. Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, agreed, saying the people should decide on important issues.
“I believe the people elected us to represent them, and not to make these critical decisions for them,” she said.
But Pedersen said it’s the Legislature’s job to make difficult decisions: “If enough people feel strongly enough about this, it is within their right to put our decision on the ballot.”
The bill was sent to the full Senate on a party-line vote with Democrats voting yes and Republicans voting no.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed exceptions to the proposed ban on capital punishment.
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