No doubt you already know the repeal of the death penalty bill passed the Senate and has moved on to the House. While not typically a topic for polite conversation, it gets no more comfortable when you spend hours in debate of the subject.
Let me use a fairly broad brush to frame the debate on SB20-100 (Repeal of the Death Penalty). The bill would eliminate the death penalty effective July 1. However, it would not commute the sentences of the three men currently sitting on death row. Colorado has executed only one condemned prisoner in the past 50 years, so those three may effectively be serving life sentences depending on the will of future governors.
Six hours of testimony in the committee hearing where the public has their chance to weigh in was not anywhere near a marathon session, but it did elicit more public testimony than all but a handful of the bills we took up last year.
The second reading of this bill in the Senate ran about five hours, with intense passionate, respectful and emotional testimony and an unusual two more hours of testimony on third reading the next day.
In support of the bill were cited the injustice of the State taking a life and the possibility of something going wrong in the execution itself, causing cruel and unusual punishment. Personal moral codes, the possibility of an innocent person being convicted and the much higher cost of a death penalty trial were all given as reasons to support the bill.
On the other side were the very narrow and heinous circumstances in which the death penalty could be sought. Furthermore, only if the district attorney was in agreement and the jury came back with a unanimous guilty verdict could a verdict of the death penalty be invoked. Benefits to public safety and law enforcement were given, as well as fairness and justice for the victims.
Amendments were offered, debated and largely defeated. People on both sides of the bill cited their Christian faith, and quoted portions of the scripture, as to why they would cast their vote for or against the bill.
While the majority of the Democrats voted to repeal the death penalty and the majority of the Republicans voted to keep it, the leader of the charge to defeat the bill was a Democrat. On the other side, a couple of Republicans spoke in favor of the bill. So, while there was a partisan divide, the vote did not follow the bright line of party line votes. It takes 18 votes to pass a bill and, in the end, HB20-100 received 19 votes to move on to the House.
Now the process starts over in the House, with promises of around-the-clock debate unless the people are allowed to vote on the matter. The only thing we know for sure right now is we will have an answer by midnight May 6 when session ends.