Iowa death penalty debate laid to rest

Senate leader signals end

The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Grand Stairway at the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The 2018 legislative debate over reinstating the death penalty in Iowa proved to be short-lived.

One day after a sometimes-emotionally charged subcommittee discussion on a bill designed to provide a limited deterrent in situations in which someone aged 18 or older kidnaps, rapes and murders a minor or kills a peace officer in the line of duty, a key senator pulled the plug on the topic.

“It’s not going to be run,” Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters after Tuesday’s committee meeting. “I’m putting it to rest.

“I don’t want to say any more than that. I’ve decided that it’s not going to go on the (Judiciary Committee) agenda either Wednesday or Thursday, so it will not be eligible to move on unless someone wants to do an amendment, which I can’t control. But in Judiciary, it will not be run.”

A five-member subcommittee had voted 3-2 on Monday to advance Senate Study Bill 3134 to full committee. But opponents wondered then if there would be enough votes to pass it in committee or on the Senate floor — especially after a death-penalty bill in the Iowa House had failed to clear the subcommittee level.

Friday marks the arrival of a self-imposed legislative deadline for non-money bills to clear a standing committee in the House or Senate to remain eligible for consideration this session.

Zaun’s decision to withhold SSB 3134 from committee consideration means it will fall victim to the “funnel” system and will be tabled for the 2018 session.

Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, who has introduced a limited death penalty bill in each General Assembly since 1997, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome.

“That’s too bad. I’ll just keep reintroducing it and we’ll see what happens,” Behn said. “I still think it’s appropriate. I think it’s the right thing to do and that’s the way the process works.

“Look, I’ve been doing this for years and you can’t get mad, you just have to say, if that’s the current situation, then the best I can do is bring it up again next year.”

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