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Senate Committee Backs Effort To Eliminate Death Penalty In Louisiana

Wallis Watkins

Lawmakers have renewed an effort to eliminate the death penalty in Louisiana. A Senate committee passed a bill Tuesday that would leave the decision up to voters. 

“In order for you to believe the death penalty is something that’s appropriate, you have to hold the position that government doesn’t get it wrong,” said Senator JP Morrell (D-New Orleans), who's pushing the constitutional amendment along with Senator Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) and Representative Terry Landry (D-New Iberia), a former superindent of Louisiana State Police. 

The measure would eliminate the death penalty as punishment for crimes committed on or after January 1, 2020.

Those who support repealing the death penalty point to the number of capital cases that have been reversed in Louisiana—more than 90 percent since 2000, according to Louisiana’s public defender.

The last time the state carried out an execution was in 2010, when a death row inmate waived his right to appeals, essentially volunteering to be executed. But over the last decade, the state has spent nearly $111 million trying death penalty cases.

“So, we will have spent by the end of the year $111 million for one execution. I would suggest as far as policy goes, that’s rather ineffective,” said Jay Dixon, the state's public defender.

But prosecutors say the system works. Scott Perrilloux is the District Attorney for Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa parishes. Perrilloux says DAs aren’t nearly as quick to seek the death penalty as they were in the past and notes the number of capital cases is down. Prosecutors say the ultimate penalty is a necessary tool. 

“What are we going to do when there is such a shocking event," asked Perrilloux, "like someone walking into a church in a mass shooting and killing innocent people in a church? What are we going to tell the public? What kind of confidence are they going to have in the system when cases like that happen?”

The bill made it out of a Senate judiciary committee, but now heads to the Senate floor, where a similar effort ended last session. Lawmakers in the House have shown little appetite for the move over the last two years.

The constitutional amendment requires support from two-thirds of both the House and Senate, a higher standard than previous efforts that needed a simple majority of votes.  If successful, the amendment would appear on the same ballot as the presidential election in 2020.

Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Wallis Watkins is a Baton Rouge native. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Philosophy from Louisiana State University in 2013. Soon after, she joined WRKF as an intern and is now reporting on health and health policy for Louisiana's Prescription.

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