SALT LAKE CITY – Legislation regarding execution by firing squad narrowly passed the Utah House of Representatives Friday after the bill’s author used a legislative rule that worked in his favor.
The Utah House passed House Bill 11, Friday, in a 39-34 vote, with 2 not voting, after it nearly stalled due to a tie 35-35 vote. The tie was broken after the bill’s author, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, issued a “call to the House” that gathered all present representatives to the House floor for a new vote.
“First of all, this bill is not a debate on whether or not we have the death penalty …,” Ray said to the House on the floor prior to the debate and vote. “The state of Utah has adopted a death penalty and in doing so we have to have a means in which to carry it out.”
Ray’s bill would enable the state to use a firing squad as an alternative to lethal injection if the drug cocktail needed for an execution is not available 30 or more days prior to the date specified on a death warrant.
The drug cocktail needed for lethal injection has come into short supply as the European drug companies that previously sold the drugs to states now refuse to as an objection to capital punishment.
Ray said some other states have resorted to mixing their own drug cocktails that have resulted in botched executions. In one instance it took a prisoner over an hour to die after being injected with the state-mixed injection.
Under current state law, if lethal injection were eventually declared unconstitutional, the firing squad would be reinstated as the state’s primary means of execution.
“I refuse to vote ‘yes’ on a bill that gives a tool to carry out the death penalty,” Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said. The death penalty disproportionately affects people along racial and socioeconomic lines, she said.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Brian King, D-Draper, described in step-by-step detail how an inmate is prepared for, and subsequently executed by the firing squad. He also said those involved in the firing squad will have to deal with attending psychological trauma of “participating in a cold blooded execution – some would say ‘murder’ – or a possible failed attempt.”
King also said it costs more to perform an execution and that the cost is higher than incarcerating a prisoner for life.
Ray and other representatives said during the debate in opposition to the death penalty the the death penalty itself isn’t the topic at hand, but rather the methods used to carry it out. Anything other than that topic was not germane to the discussion, they said.
After a vote was called, the bill was locked in a tie of 35 in favor and 35 against. At this point, Ray issued a “call of the house,” which called all representatives present and available to vote on the bill, at which point the bill passed.
The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration.
Ed. note: From Southern Utah, Reps. Brad Last, Don Ipson, Michael Noel, and John Westwood voted in favor of the bill; Reps. V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard voted against the bill; and Rep. Merrill Nelson did not vote on the bill.
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