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Washington state lawmakers introduce bill to abolish death penalty

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OLYMPIA, Washington — Bills to abolish the death penalty were introduced in the state House and Senate on Monday, an effort that seeks to build on Gov. Jay Inslee's decision last year to impose a moratorium on capital punishment.

The measures, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle of Seattle and Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way, would replace the death penalty with a life sentence, with no opportunity for parole. House Bill 1739 and Senate Bill 5639 would also require those convicted to work in prison in order to pay restitution to victims and their families.

Carlyle said that the time is right to renew the debate surrounding the death penalty in the state, even though previous efforts to get rid of the death penalty have failed.

"There is, unquestionably, a substantial shift in thinking in our state and in our country — and that translates into meaningful progress within the Legislature," he said.

Three other lawmakers have signed on in support of the House measure: Democratic Rep. Tina Orwall of Des Moines and Republican Reps. Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla and Chad Magendanz of Issaquah. Two Democrats, Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Jamie Pedersen, both of Seattle, are co-sponsors on the Senate bill.

The death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government and 32 states, including Washington and Oregon. However, as in Washington, the governor of Oregon has said no one would be executed during his time in office. Eighteen states have abolished the death penalty, with Maryland being the most recent.

Miloscia cited a recent study from Seattle University that found death penalty cases in the state cost $1 million more than similar Washington cases where capital punishment is not sought. "Here's a way we can reduce the cost of government," he said.

Last year, several Republican lawmakers decried Inslee's decision. Inslee's moratorium means that if a death-penalty case comes to his desk, he will issue a reprieve. Reprieves aren't pardons and don't commute the sentences of those condemned to death. Under Inslee's system, death-row inmates will remain in prison rather than face execution.

Miloscia said that some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate may be open to the idea if it's done properly. "I think there is a window of opportunity for us to start the discussion," he said.

There have been 78 inmates, all men, put to death in Washington state since 1904. The last execution in the state came in September 2010, when Cal Coburn Brown died by lethal injection for the 1991 murder of a Seattle-area woman. After spending nearly 17 years on death row, he was the first Washington inmate executed since 2001.

Currently, nine men are on death row.

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