Capitol Views: Death penalty on the docket

    Lawmakers will debate Louisiana’s use of the death penalty this session, as a series of bills have been filed on the issue and appear poised to bring the Legislature into a contentious debate on capital punishment.

    Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who has unsuccessfully tried to abolish the state’s use of the death penalty in the past, has filed another bill to end executions. It is worth noting Claitor’s effort has picked up support in the House from Rep. Terry Landry, the New Iberia Democrat who served as superintendent of State Police from 2000-2004. “We’ve both been on different sides of law enforcement and see that it is not an effective deterrent,” said Claitor, a former prosecutor.

    The Baton Rouge Republican readily admitted to supporting the death penalty earlier in his career but said that a visit to a Catholic school in his district changed his viewpoint. “It was quite literally from the mouth of babes,” Claitor said. “The more that I talked with these kids, it became clear that I was a hypocrite on the issue.”

    While Claitor’s previous efforts and other similar bills have not received much traction in the past, the senator said he is receiving “plenty of quiet encouragement on the issue,” adding that even representatives of the French and British governments reached out to offer their support.

    Opponents of the bill such as House Criminal Justice Chairman Sherman Mack, R-Albany, believe that Claitor’s measure is counterproductive and would cripple the efforts of prosecutors. “I don’t think that the district attorneys can do their jobs without this discretion,” Mack said.

    Mack pointed to a recent string of homicides in his Livingston Parish district as crimes that would warrant capital punishment. “You have cases where it calls for the death penalty,” he said. “As the end of the day, this is about justice.”

    Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, has filed a bill that would make it easier for the state to perform executions by allowing the companies who provide the drugs for lethal injections to remain secret. Similar bills passed in Texas and Arkansas allowed corrections officials there to continue administering the death penalty after delays. “If the death penalty is on the books, we need to carry it out,” Muscarello said.

    Muscarello’s sentiment was echoed by Mack. “Right now, the health penalty is the law of Louisiana,” Mack said. “Victims are asking why it is not being used.”

    Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com.  

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