A proposal to allow voters to decide if capital punishment should remain legal in Louisiana has been defeated in the state senate.
Senate Bill 112 would have added a question to the next state-wide ballot proposing a constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty. It was defeated Monday by a vote of 25-13 against, having needed a two-thirds majority to pass.
The measure narrowly passed out of legislative committee on April 30. Speaking during the senate debate, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Dan Claitor, (R-Baton Rouge) said that respect for all human life was paramount.
"It's a morally wrong thing to do, and at the end of the day, it cheapens life," Claitor said.
The senator, a former prosecutor, argued that execution did not work as an effective deterrent, was often flawed in its application, and had resulted in miscarriages of justice.
Claitor was supported by a minority of senators across party lines.
Sen. JP Morrell (D-New Orleans) spoke during the committee debate about the high percentage of exonerations of death row inmates which suggested the potential for mistaken executions.
"It's indisputable that we had people on death row who were [then] found innocent," Morrell said in support of Claitor's bill.
State representative Terry Landry (D-New Iberia) has proposed a similar measure in the House. A former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police and a former supported of capital punishment, he said that his beliefs had evolved and that he “now believe[s] the death penalty is wrong."
The measure was supported by the Catholic bishops of the state. Speaking on behalf of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, executive director Rob Tasman said that "justice can never be wrought by killing a human being."
Pope Francis has called the death penalty a rejection of the Gospel and of human dignity, calling on civil authorities to end its use. Last year, he ordered a revision of paragraph 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to describe the death penalty “inadmissible” and urging its elimination.
Opponents of the measure said that Claitor’s argument about deterrence was irrelevant.
"Nowhere does [the law] say we shall 'deter,' said Sen. Bodi White (R-Baton Rouge). "It says 'shall be punished' and that's what this does."
District Attorney Scott Perrilloux of the 21st district told News Star that deterrence was not a relevant factor in cases where he sought the death penalty.
"What we consider is the victims and what victims consider as justice" he said.
The last execution to take place in Louisiana was in 2010.
Although there are currently 72 inmates on death row in the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards has imposed a moratorium on any further executions until July of this year because of the unavailability of the drugs used in lethal injections.