Death penalty bill comments miss the mark

April 14, 2014

I read an article talking about the death penalty repeal bill and how supporters are saying House leadership is holding up the bill in committee. They say that the only way to do something about it is to suspend rules and force the bill to the floor for a vote.

I need to correct the record for my constituents. Regardless of your position on the death penalty - and I’ve made mine very clear that I support keeping the death penalty - this bill has had a fair process in the House. It bothers me to hear people say the opposite. We have a process for bills and it has been followed the same as it has been for any other bill.

When Senate Bill 19 came to the House, Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf assigned it to the Judiciary Committee. That was the right committee for the bill, and probably was the best chance for it to get out. Looking at the committee membership, it’s apparent that death penalty repeal would not have gotten out of public safety, corrections or administration. Judiciary was the best committee, and the bill’s sponsors haven’t disagreed.

Most importantly, the bill got a full hearing in committee. It failed by a 6-5 vote. Bills sometimes fail in committee. If you’ve been a legislator long enough, it’s probably happened to you at some point. That’s the process. If you don’t get the result you want, you can try to change some minds or you can try again next session. You don’t accuse people of abusing the process.

It’s fair to point out that Rep. Schwartzkopf had this happen to him a few years ago. He introduced a bill and couldn’t get a committee hearing, so he brought the bill to the floor - because the process wasn’t being followed. The next session, he got his committee hearing on the same bill and it failed in committee. Pete walked away from the bill because he respected the committee’s decision.

This is a contentious bill for a lot of people, but you cannot say that it hasn’t been given a fair hearing. I think everyone should keep that in mind when talking about it.

John C. Atkins
State Representative 41st District

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