New Mexico death penalty repeal bill should become law

Rep. Gail Chasey [New Mexico House of Representatives]: "I am delighted and encouraged, although not surprised, that the New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the death penalty by 41-28 votes on Monday, February 12. This is now the second time in four years that the House has voted to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico. Although I am cautious, I feel an increasing sense of optimism that the bill will pass the Senate and that Governor Richardson will sign the bill into law. This will not be easy and perhaps the greatest hurdle will be convincing Governor Richardson: (1) that the death penalty is a public policy failure; and (2) that leading the country on this issue will distinguish him and will garner profound respect and support both nationally and internationally.

Passage of House bill 190 reflects a growing awareness of the problems which plague the death penalty, not just in New Mexico but throughout the United States. Thirty-five Democrats, joined by six Republicans cast their votes on Monday against an exorbitant, ineffective, and error-prone system which is imposed unfairly on the basis of race and socio-economic status and perhaps most importantly of all, risks executing the innocent. Other compelling arguments voiced by legislators during the floor debate included that the death penalty fails murder victims' families, fails law enforcement and severely undermines the credibility and stature of the United States among its international allies, many of whom consider the death penalty a violation of fundamental human rights, entirely incompatible with basic principles of fairness and democracy.

A unique aspect of the repeal bill is that it was not introduced in isolation. It is part of a legislative package. The repeal bill is accompanied by several bills which provide for meaningful and expanded support and services for murder victims' families. This legislation provides that some of the funds that the state of New Mexico would save by abolishing the death penalty shall be redirected towards the families of murder victims.

Murder victims' family members have been a vital and compelling force within the New Mexico abolition movement. Their courageous and heart-wrenching testimonies, together with their articulate and passionate explanations of their opposition to the death penalty have undermined the traditional reason so often invoked by prosecutors and law enforcement representatives, namely that we need the death penalty for the victims' families. Although murder victims' families are drastically and understandably split on the issue of the death penalty, there is common ground between all of the families. It is the purpose of our legislation to find that common ground and provide victims families with meaningful assistance in their time of grief. By abolishing the death penalty we further hope to free up resources which can be redirected towards proven crime prevention measures—measures which will reduce violence and will save innocent lives—possibly the single most important concern of all murder victims families."

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