As we move deeper into January, most state legislative sessions have begun. The unifying feature in all these state legislatures is the grim economic and budget picture, but despite that, or perhaps because of that, several states will be debating the death penalty in very substantive ways. This week, legislative committees in Kansas and Washington are considering abolition.
The debate in Kansas is significant; their abolition bill, supported by Republican Senator Carolyn McGinn passed out of committee last year but was returned for further study. In 2003, an official government study concluded that the death penalty in Kansas costs considerably more than the alternatives, and Kansas has not carried out a single execution since the death penalty was reinstated.
Neither has New Hampshire, and a Study Commission in the Granite State is spending this year evaluating the pros and cons of retaining a punishment that they are most likely never going to use (1 death sentence since 1959, no executions since 1939). A bill to establish a similar study commission in Missouri has been filed, and there is likely to be serious consideration of that this year as well.
Despite a focus in 2010 on budgets and elections, capital punishment will continue to make news in the halls of many state legislatures. And, as in recent years (with some exceptions – Virginia, for example), the news will mostly be about efforts to restrict or eliminate the death penalty.