Death penalty abolition bill 'dead' in Montana

Efforts have fallen short to procedurally "blast" a bill to end the death penalty onto Montana's House floor for full consideration. The March 1 deadline for passing legislation to the state Senate has passed.

"We probably had the votes to pass HB 366 out of the House but just didn't have a workable path to successfully get it out of the House Judiciary Committee after they tabled the bill" on a 9-10 vote Feb. 10, said Matthew Brower, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference, told NCR in an email.

"That's the bad news. The good news," he added, "is that we are seeing increasing support for abolition among Republicans. Particularly encouraging is the support we are seeing from young Republicans, a number of whom are Catholic."

On Feb. 6, Brower and 15 others testified in support of HB 366 ("Abolish death penalty and replace with life without parole") before the Judiciary Committee.

Brower also submitted a joint letter from Montana's two Catholic bishops — George Thomas of Helena and Michael Warfel of Great Falls-Billings — which reiterated "their opposition to the death penalty and its harmful impact on all parties and on a society that values life," according to the Helena diocese website.

Montana legislators have considered bills to ban the death penalty since 1999.

"The ball is moving in the right direction and we and the Montana Abolition Coalition are going to keep working this issue to make sure death penalty abolition becomes a reality in Montana," Brower wrote. "So we look forward to 2019 and begin laying the groundwork for those efforts beginning now."

[Dan Morris-Young writes for NCR from the West Coast.]

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