The Washington state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would ban the death penalty, leading the state one step closer to ending the practice for good.
As the Seattle Times reports, the bill passed the Democratic-led Senate with bipartisan support. The measure would strike the death penalty from being considered as a sentencing option for aggravated murder. If the bill passes, the harshest sentence in the state would instead be life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The measure now heads to the Statehouse, which has a two-person Democratic majority.
Thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington since 2014.
Lawmakers cited the cost of maintaining the death penalty and incidents of wrongful convictions as reasons to abolish capital punishment. According to the Times, one Seattle University study from 2015 found that death penalty cases in Washington “cost $1 million more than similar cases where capital punishment [was] not sought.”
One of the co-sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, said that the vote was a reflection of the public’s evolution on capital punishment.
“You cannot read a front-page story about DNA mistakes that has someone in jail for 35 years and not be jolted to the core,” Carlyle said, according to the Times. “That has transformed the public’s view of this issue.”
In Washington, as in other parts of the country, capital punishment disproportionately affects black defendants.
One 2015 study found that jurors in Washington were three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than a white one—despite the fact that prosecutors were slightly more likely to seek the death penalty against white defendants. This unequal application of the punishment was among the reasons Inslee instilled the moratorium.
From the Times:
In a written statement issued after the vote, Inslee said that when he enacted the moratorium, “I hoped it would create space for a discussion about the unequal application of this law, the enormous costs of seeking this punishment and the uncertainty of closure for victims’ families.”
“I hope Washington joins the growing number of states that are choosing to end the death penalty,” he wrote.
If the bill passes in the Statehouse, Washington will join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in ridding itself of the death penalty. Three other states—Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania—currently have moratoriums on the practice.