Nearly one year after Utah reauthorized the use of firing squads to execute death row inmates, Republicans lawmakers there are now trying to end the death penalty altogether. On Tuesday night, a Republican-led Senate committee passed a bill to take capital punishment off the table for people convicted for homicide.
The Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee passed S.B. 189, which was sponsored by Sen. Stephen Urquhart (R), by a vote of 5–2. Three Republicans and two Democrats supported the bill.
According to Urquhart, who previously voted in favor of reinstating the firing squad, death penalty cases are riddled with errors, and wrongful convictions happen all of the time. The appeals process also comes with a high price tag for the state.
“Government shouldn’t be in the business of killing. It’s not our place. It’s wrong for us to assume that because we aren’t infallible,” he told the Associated Press.
Sen. Mark Madsen (R) shared that sentiment. “If I knew they were guilty, I have no moral compunction whatsoever pulling the trigger, pulling the switch, whatever it is, but I don’t have that level of confidence in government,” he said, noting that deadly errors cannot be reversed.
The two Republicans who voted against the bill believe capital punishment is just punishment for murder. They also say it should stay on the table out of consideration for victims’ loved ones.
Urquhart doesn’t expect the bill to pass in the Republican-led Senate. If it does, there’s no guarantee that Gov. Gary Herbert will sign it into law. Last October, in response to a judiciary committee hearing about repealing the death penalty, he said the punishment should be an option “for the most heinous of crimes.”
But the recent committee vote is another sign that support for the death penalty is dying out. The practice was banned in Nebraska last year, and many states have put it on hold. National support for the death penalty has plummeted, with opponents citing faith, high costs, and the unreliable evidence used to convict people. That evidence has resulted in wrongful convictions and the executions of innocent people.
Utah’s Senate voted in favor of the bill on March 1. It is now headed to the state House.