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Bill to abolish death penalty in Washington state doesn't advance out of House committee


OLYMPIA, Washington — An effort to abolish the death penalty in Washington state isn't moving forward in the Legislature this year after the chairwoman of a House committee chose to not bring it up for a vote Thursday in advance of a key deadline.

House Bill 1739, which received a public hearing this week, was scheduled for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee, but Rep. Laurie Jinkins said that while she's personally supportive of the bill she didn't think this was the right time to move forward with it.

"On an issue like this, if you're not in good synch with the public opinion on it, it can be a very challenging issue in people's districts," said Jinkins, D-Tacoma.

The measure would have replaced capital punishment with life in prison, with no opportunity for parole. It also would have required those convicted to work in prison in order to pay restitution to victims' families. A companion bill that was introduced in the Senate did not receive a public hearing.

The House bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle, said that he was confident the bill would progress further next year.

"We are making meaningful steps forward, and we are getting closer every year," he said.

Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a moratorium on capital punishment for as long as he's in office. Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said that the governor appreciated the bipartisan efforts.

"Efforts like this take time," Smith wrote in an email Thursday. "The conversation is worthwhile and will continue."

The death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government and 32 states, including Washington and Pennsylvania, where a moratorium was just issued by the governor last week. Eighteen states have abolished the death penalty, with Maryland being the most recent.

Currently, nine men are on death row in Washington state. Death penalty cases in the state are still being tried and continue to work through the system. Inslee's moratorium means that if a death-penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve, which means the inmate would stay in prison rather than face execution.

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