Death penalty bill fails to clear House committee

 (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Despite support from the governor, legislation repealing the death penalty in Delaware failed to gain traction yet again.

Senate Bill 40 failed to clear the House Judiciary Committee after narrowly winning passage in the Senate last month. Committee members voted against sending the bill to the full House on Wednesday, 6-5.

This is the second time a bill abolishing the death penalty has stalled in the House committee. 

“It was not unexpected. I mean we had no reason to believe that the vote would be any different than it was two years ago when the bill was first introduced,” said Sen. Karen Peterson, SB 40’s prime sponsor. The Democrat who represents Stanton also led the initial failed repeal effort. “But we’ll start again on working to get the bill out of committee.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

To do that, Peterson said she, along with the bill’s other sponsors, will try to convince a single committee member to flip his vote.

“Even if the member of the committee doesn’t support the bill, I mean, the real issue is should the entire House of Representatives have an opportunity to weigh in on the issue or is the committee just going to bottle up and not let the other 75 percent of the House of Representatives be heard,” she said. 

Other options include petitioning 21 House members for their signatures or moving to suspend the rules to bring the bill straight to the full House floor. Peterson said the bill’s sponsors will work all three. 

“The states that have passed a death penalty repeal bill, it typically takes about eight years. We’re just at the beginning of the third year, so we’re early in the process. But I would hope it would pass sooner rather than later,” Peterson said.

‘I just don’t get it.’

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson said he was surprised by Wednesday’s vote. 

“I thought that we maybe could convince one of those no votes last time to switch their votes over this time and it just didn’t happen,” said Simpson, R-Milford. “I just don’t get it, it was disappointing.”

Supporters of the bill argue that the death penalty is not only expensive, but also racially unfair, morally wrong and does not deter criminals.

Members of law enforcement are chief among SB 40’s opponents saying capital punishment provides closure to murder victims’ families and justice to society. 

“DNA evidence has shown a lot of people that were sitting on death row that were actually innocent,” Simpson said. “That’s what I think we as a society have to keep foremost in our mind is that we’re not any worse than the worst criminal. We want to be better than that as a society and I think that may be what that committee over in the House forgot.”

The measure would not have applied to inmates currently on death row.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal