Friday, March 13, 2009

Death Penalty Repeal Goes to Governor

The state Senate, following nearly three hours of debate, voted 24-18 to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

That means House Bill 285, sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque will go to Gov. Bill Richardson for signature.

The governor’s office set up a hotline for getting the opinions of New Mexicans on the issue. That number is 505-476-2225. Those wishing to weigh in via e-mail can do so through the governor’s web site at: and clicking on “Contact the Governor.”

“This is an extremely difficult issue that deserved the serious and thoughtful debate it received in the Legislature,” Richardson said in a prepared statement. “I have met with many people and will continue to consider all sides of the issue before making a decision.”

Richardson must act on the bill within three days after he receives it.

The 24 senators who voted for the bill were all Democrats. Three Democratic senators — Richard Martinez of EspaƱola, Tim Jennings of Roswell and John Arthur Smith of Deming — joined the 15 Senate Republicans in opposing the bill.

This was the first time since 2001 the Senate has voted on a death-penalty repeal. Martinez voted for the repeal in 2001, but Sen. Phil Griego, who voted for HB285 voted against the similar bill in 2001.

Kate blogged the roll call HERE

Amnesty International just emailed this:

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today welcomed the passage of House Bill 285, which would abolish the death penalty in the state. The human rights organization praised the legislature for voting to eliminate a fatally flawed and costly system, and urged Governor Bill Richardson to allow the bill to become law.

“Abolition of the death penalty is a trend that is destined to continue, and New Mexico will be remembered as a trailblazer and a beacon of hope for everyone who believes in human rights and justice,” said Larry Cox, executive director for AIUSA. “With steps toward abolition being taken across the country, it is clear that Americans are beginning to reject a system that does not prevent violent crime. By supporting this legislation, Gov. Richardson would further burnish his human rights credentials by making New Mexico a true exemplar for other states.”

New Mexico would be the second state in the United States to legislatively abolish the death penalty; New Jersey led the charge when Governor John Corzine signed abolition into law in December 2007. Currently Nebraska, New Hampshire, Kansas, Colorado and Montana are considering a variety of abolition bills.

“From a human rights perspective, there are multiple reasons to abolish the death penalty – but in these hard economic times, there is also a clear budgetary argument to be made for scrapping this system,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of AIUSA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. “According to the Public Defender’s Department the state will save millions of dollars, which can then be applied to genuine crime prevention measures. Retaining the practice does not make any financial sense."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries who campaign for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.