HELENA – A plan to ban the death penalty in Montana is headed toward a floor vote in the state Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed the idea on a 7-5 vote Tuesday, boosting the hopes of death penalty foes who think they might be able to get the plan through the whole Legislature this year.
Supporters of the ban say the risk of wrongly killing an innocent man is just too great. They also argue it is more expensive to fight death penalty legal appeals than it is to imprison someone for life.
Opponents argue the death penalty is a necessary punishment and serves as a deterrent to murder.
The committee had an emotional discussion before the vote on Senate Bill 236.
“There are people who have murdered other people egregiously and there is no doubt as to their guilt,” said Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel. “It’s about what I call justice.”
McGee said putting such people to death saves families of victims the ongoing trauma caused by unending appeals and self-promotion of some imprisoned murderers.
Two years ago the death penalty ban cleared the Senate, but died in a House committee.
Currently, 36 states have a death penalty and 14 do not, according to the Washington D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center.
Senators on the judiciary committee said their votes on the issue are always difficult. More than one cited the Bible — although outspoken Christians have lined up on both sides of the debate.
Some argue the Bible clearly lays out the principles of the death penalty. Others argue their faith’s opposition to abortion logically requires them to also oppose the death penalty.
“Only God can make the decision when a person dies,” said Sen. Gary Perry, R-Manhattan.
Other senators on the panel said they would be voting yes to move the issue to the floor, although they were still undecided on how they will ultimately vote.
“I have been, and continue to be, conflicted about the death penalty,” said Sen. Jesse Laslovich, D-Anaconda. “I don’t know where I am on this.”
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