Nevada leaders are dropping a bill that would have banned capital punishment in the state, dashing the hopes of lawyers who celebrated the measure had made more progress than ever in the legislature.
In a statement Thursday, Gov. Steve Sisolak said there was “no way forward” for efforts by Democratic lawmakers to abolish capital punishment, undermining hopes of criminal justice reform that advocates let the Democratic trifecta in the Legislative Assembly and the governor’s office do so. and finally take measures to end the death penalty.
“I have been clear on my position that the death penalty should be requested and used less often, but I believe that there are serious situations that justify it,” the governor said in a statement. “I understand some will be disappointed with this outcome, but the process of determining crimes serious enough to warrant this punishment deserves careful consideration.”
The law project, AB395, walked out of the assembly in April on a 26-16 vote with all Republicans in opposition. But top Senate decision-makers – including two top executives whose day jobs work for Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who is a leading opponent of abolition – did not schedule the measure. for a hearing before a Friday deadline for bills to pass from their second house committee.
Asked about criticism that the Legislature is failing to live up to its commitments to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system – racial disparity is a major concern raised in the death penalty debate – Chief Justice Majority in the Senate, Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas), defended the body. work and highlighted action taken on other issues, including bail reform and police use of force.
“The people who live in our communities want to have a fair system. They want to know that if they find themselves or their family members in this, it is fair. They want to know that when they are victims of crime, that people will be treated fairly and their voices will be heard, ”she told reporters in a brief interview after Sisolak’s announcement. “We’ve done a lot of work here in the state of Nevada, and I encourage anyone who thinks we’re not doing enough to take a look at other states and ask if we are or not because I know when I speak to colleagues from other states, they are amazed that we can make such progress. ”
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement that advocates had worked on potential amendments to restrict but not completely abolish the death penalty, but acknowledged that it had been a “difficult task given all of the above. the many considerations that go into this business.
“While we are disappointed that we were unable to cross the finish line this session on AB395, we have to accept that there is a process and that many of our priorities are not coming to fruition,” he said. in the press release. “We will continue to work on policies that we believe are sound and to work with our colleagues on meaningful reform of the inequalities that exist in our criminal justice system.”
MP Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas), who introduced the bill and chairs the committee that sponsored it, said it was time to refocus and move on to other session tasks.
“There is disappointment, but … we live to fight another day and I certainly don’t feel discouraged,” he said. “Certainly that doesn’t take away from some of the other very good criminal justice reform steps we’ve taken over the past three sessions, and I just hope it’s not lost. I mean, we really made substantial progress. a piece of that. “
Advocates had increased pressure on lawmakers, holding a press conference earlier this week to claim that the death penalty disproportionately affects people of color.
“Last summer, promises were made regarding reforms regarding racial justice issues,” Yvette Williams, chair of the Clark County Black Caucus, said at the press conference. “We are scrutinizing and paying attention not only to what has been voted on the floor, but also to the bills submitted to each committee … which decides what will be heard.”
Supporters of the bill voiced their grievances during the public comment period at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was said to have been the venue where the bill was heard. Nevada ACLU officials said the responsibility for future executions would rest with lawmakers who chose not to hear the bill and end the practice.
“Party leaders in the Senate and in the governor’s office have shown that their commitment to meaningful reform is nothing but lip service,” said Athar Haseebullah, executive director of the group. “The people of Nevada are ready to end the death penalty. They deserve a voice, and they deserve real leadership in the Legislature rather than just political cronyism. It’s embarrassing.”
Despite polls, publicity and other lobbying activities, Sisolak maintained that he was uncomfortable repealing the death penalty in extreme cases like mass shootings.
Bill’s demise comes as the Clark County District Attorney’s office lobbies for execution for Zane Floyd, who was convicted of murdering four people in a Las Vegas grocery store two decades ago. Prosecutors want to schedule an execution in late July after the state prison director said the system needed at least four months to prepare for a fatal injection.
The execution would be Nevada’s first enactment of the death penalty in 15 years. The state nearly executed Scott Dozier in 2018, but a long legal battle against lethal injection drugs delayed the execution and Dozier committed suicide in 2019.
Journalists Riley Snyder and Tabitha Mueller contributed to this report. Updated 2:59 PM 5/13/21 to add a comment from ACLU, Yeager.