Colorado State Senate Votes Down Death Penalty

Colorado state capitol building
Colorado state capitol building / Wikimedia Commons

The Colorado Senate on Thursday passed a bill ending the state's death penalty, more or less guaranteeing that the Centennial State will become the 22nd state to abolish capital punishment.

In what the Denver Post called a "historic vote that followed a long and frequently emotional debate," state senators swung 19 to 15 in favor of the bill's second reading, in effect ensuring its passage. Three Republicans joined most Democrats to pass the bill over the objection of the upper house's Republican majority.

That same Republican majority has frustrated five previous attempts at abolition, which routinely sailed through the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives. Assuming a final vote, expected Friday, goes the way Thursday's vote did, then the bill will likely reach Gov. Jared Polis's (D.) desk, where he is expected to bring Colorado's death penalty to an end.

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House Republicans, however, have promised to contest that process. State representative Dave Williams (R.) told the Post Thursday that he would fight tooth-and-nail to block the passage of the bill, which he said undemocratically avoids submitting the issue to a state referendum in November.

"If the Democrats refuse to let the people decide, then I will do whatever I can to block the House chamber. I will debate; I will filibuster; I'll have bills read at length," Williams said.

Also critical of the vote was dissenting Democratic senator Rhonda Fields. Fields, whose son and son's fiancée were murdered in 2005 by two of the three men now on Colorado's death row, told colleagues on Thursday, "Either we're for public safety, or we're not."

If, as appears likely, Colorado abolishes its death penalty in the coming months, it will join a number of other states to have done so in the past two years. New Hampshire abolished its own death penalty last year after Democrats secured a veto-proof majority in the state legislature.

Also last year, California governor Gavin Newsom (D.) implemented a moratorium on the death penalty over the will of California voters. In 2018, the Washington state Supreme Court declared the death penalty in violation of the state's constitution—a ruling that could, in principle, be overturned by a revision to Washington state execution practices.