Death Penalty Advances

As senators waded through bills today to enhance, correct and reverse portions of last year's criminal justice reforms, a proposal to eliminate Louisiana's death penalty emerged from the committee process. SB 51 by Sen. JP Morrell now heads to the full Senate for further consideration.

Morrell is treading familiar policy ground. A similar bill made it to the Senate last year, but it stalled there and never received a floor hearing. Hoping for a different outcome, Morrell told the Senate Judiciary C Committee that the state's death penalty has become outdated and cost prohibitive — during a time when Louisiana should be endeavoring to be progressive and frugal.

Before voting 4-1 to advance Morrell's legislation, committee members also heard from a Catholic bishop who endorsed the bill. As for the opposition, it was quiet. There were no impassioned pleas and only one opposition card was filed with the committee. But that doesn't mean it's smooth sailing for the issue during this regular session.

HB 162 by Rep. Terry Landry is the House version of Morrell's proposal and it's expected to receive its first hearing soon before the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee. While the Senate has traditionally been open-minded about eliminating the death penalty, the House voted last year to keep the law on the books.

Morrell's legislation, as it heads to the Senate floor, strikes the death penalty entirely from state law. Currently it's a mandatory punishment for treason and a possible punishment for first degree murder and rape. Instead of the death penalty, the bill would slap such offenders with life imprisonment without the benefit of parole or probation.

If enacted, the proposed law would take effect on Aug. 1. It would only be applied to offenses that take place on or after that enactment date.

Bourbon, Basketball and Budgets: F. King Alexander Speaks

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