WASHINGTON — Although legislation to repeal the death penalty in Nevada was stopped in its tracks in May, a Catholic death penalty advocate is not throwing in the towel.
“As we’ve seen in many state repeals of death penalty laws, the path to abolition can be long and winding. But this year’s progress in Nevada proves the state is on the right path,” said Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network.
Earlier this spring, the Nevada Assembly passed a bill that would have not only banned capital punishment in the state, but also would have commuted the death sentences of more than 70 people on the state’s death row.
The legislation failed to move forward when the state Senate did not advance the bill. It also lacked full support from the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, who said May 13 that there was “no path forward” to end capital punishment in the state.
“Though this year’s death penalty abolition bill in Nevada ultimately did not make it to a full Senate vote, its historic passage in the Assembly was an encouraging sign of progress,” Vaillancourt Murphy told Catholic News Service in May 25 email.
She also said this year’s session marked the first time in Nevada history that such a repeal bill was reported out of committee and considered by either house of the Legislature.
In 2017, when a death penalty bill was considered in Nevada, the state’s Catholic bishops issued a statement calling for an end to the death penalty in the state and urging support for promoting the dignity and sanctity of all life.
After this year’s legislation failed to succeed, Athar Haseebullah, executive director of Nevada’s American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement the governor and Senate Democrats “failed Nevadans” and demonstrated that “their commitment to meaningful reform is nothing but lip service.”
Sisolak had expressed support for limiting the use of the death penalty, but he has stopped short of advocating for its full repeal.
“I’ve been clear on my position that capital punishment should be sought and used less often, but I believe there are severe situations that warrant it,” he said in a statement.
The Nevada Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, which organized support for the bill from groups including the ACLU of Nevada, the Nevada Democratic Party, the Nevada Catholic Conference, Faith Organizing Alliance, Faith in Action and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said the decision to stop the bill was “undemocratic.”
Despite the disappointment in the legislation’s failure, its state supporters echoed Vaillancourt Murphy’s idea of looking at the defeat in the context of a step toward progress.
“We are disappointed that we could not get across the finish line this session,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement.
“We have to accept that there is a process and many of our priorities don’t ultimately come to fruition,” he added, stressing that the state’s lawmakers would continue working on policies for “meaningful reform to the inequities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
For now, Nevada remains one of 24 states where the death penalty remains law. In the past 16 years, 11 states have rescinded capital punishment and state governors in California, Oregon and Pennsylvania have imposed death penalty moratoriums.