State senator Paul Wieland (R, 22nd district, Imperial) has introduced a bill to repeal the death penalty in Missouri, SB 816. He introduced a similar bill last year that did not make it out of committee. One might think of this as a surprising move from a Republican, as the GOP is generally thought of as the law-and-order, pro death penalty party. But anti-execution feeling on the right seems to be growing in the state:
The bill, SB 816, is sponsored by Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, has received immense grassroots support from a group called Missouri Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. The group, which is joined in support by members of the Students for Life, College Republicans, and the Missouri Federalist Society, credits growing grassroots support for the early session hearing.
Here’s what Wieland said in November:
“I’m a pro-life Catholic and I believe that if you’re going to be pro-life, you should be pro-life on both ends of the spectrum,” said Wieland, suggesting that such a position means opposing not just abortion but also the death penalty. “I don’t think it’s a fiscally smart thing that we do as far as dealing with the death penalty. I think we spend a lot more money with the appeals and going through the process of putting people to death than if we just give them life in prison.”
There are also concerns about the way Missouri acquires its execution drugs (for lethal injection) as it tries to work around lawsuits and foreign boycotts:
“They’re so fiscally responsible about everything else, but they turn a blind eye to the idea of some correction officer getting a paper bag, putting cash in it and driving across state line and picking up an execution drug,” said Wieland.
Another argument against execution is that, given the high number of wrongful convictions we are seeing overturned (including the widely-reported Ryan Ferguson case here in Missouri (not a death penalty case)), we should not risk executing an innocent person. The justice system needs to be treated with healthy skepticism and oversight by small government conservatives, just like any government agency or program.
Given the bill’s lack of advancement in the last session, I am skeptical that this will pass this year. Wieland’s bill has three co-sponsors (two Democrats) and a companion bill in the House from GOP Rep. T.J. Berry, HB 2064, has six cosponsors (four Republicans). The bill has a committee hearing tomorrow, though, which is more that it got last year, and receiving action early in the session makes a bill more likely to get a floor vote, so we shall see.