Bipartisan group sends 100 Montanans to Helena in support of bill abolishing death penalty
February 11, 2013
By Ketti Wilhelm
About 100 citizen lobbyists descended on Helena Friday to advocate for a bill that would end the death penalty in Montana.
Many advocates of House Bill 370, including at least 20 from the Missoula and Bitterroot areas, arrived on busses provided by the Montana Abolition Coalition – the group responsible for the bill.
“The death penalty is a system that is broken beyond repair,” said Jennifer Kirby, the Coalition’s coordinator.
“It wastes states’ resources, risks executing an innocent person and puts murder victims’ families through the agony of trial and appeals,” Kirby added.
Kirby said the lobbying effort was a great success, with participants arriving from distant towns such as Whitefish, Absarokee, Dillon and Poplar.
“All corners of the state came to the capital to tell their legislators how broken the death penalty system is,” Kirby said.
The House Judiciary committee is scheduled to vote on HB-370 on Thursday.
Steve Doglakos, the Coalition’s director of conservative outreach, said he thinks the committee will likely approve the bill, which would send it to the floor of the House.
“We’ve got some good prospects with some swing voters on that committee and we’re very hopeful,” Doglakos said. He did not specify which members he considers likely supporters.
HB-370 is spearheaded by a bipartisan team of four legislators including Rep. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, who is vice chair of the House Judiciary committee.
Rep. Doug Kary, R-Billings, is the primary sponsor. Sen. Matthew Rosendale, R-Glendive, and Sen. Dave Wanzenried, D-Missoula, are also sponsors.
“They may not agree on the reasons, but they all agree that it’s time for it to go,” Kirby said of the group.
She added that five states have abolished the death penalty in the last five years, bringing the total to 17 states and the District of Columbia that do not have a death penalty.
The Coalition, which is based in Helena but also has organizers in Missoula and Billings, has proposed bills that would end the death penalty in every legislative session since 2007.
In 1999, the year after the group formed, the Coalition brought forth a successful bill that eliminated the death penalty for minors.
In the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia, the United States Supreme Court put a stop to the death penalty because of concerns that the sentence was not being applied equally in all cases. The decision was reversed in 1976.
Since then, Kirby said Montana has given the death sentence to 13 people. Three of the 13 have been executed – the most recent in 2006. Six had their sentences changed or overturned, two committed suicide in prison and two more remain on death row.