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Quickly crafted bill addresses moratorium on death sentences

West side lawmaker accuses governor of misusing his constitutional powers

Sen. Steve O’Ban addresses reporters alongside Sen. Kirk Pearson and Rep. Jay Rodne after announcing his bill dealing with Gov. Jay Inslee’s blanket moratorium on executions.

Sen. Steve O’Ban addresses reporters alongside Sen. Kirk Pearson and Rep. Jay Rodne after announcing his bill dealing with Gov. Jay Inslee’s blanket moratorium on executions. Photo courtesy of Washington State Legislative Support Services

OLYMPIA - Sen. Steve O’Ban, a constitutional attorney from west Pierce County, has introduced a measure aimed at addressing Gov. Jay Inslee’s blanket moratorium on death row executions in Washington state.

O’Ban says Inslee’s action ignores the victims’ families and is a misuse of his constitutional powers.

“In my judgment, the moratorium is as much a misuse of power as it is a blow to justice for the victims and their families,” said O’Ban (R-University Place) at a press conference yesterday in Olympia.

“The system we have in our state directs the legislature to decide whether execution is an appropriate penalty for the most horrendous murders, while the governor decides on a case-by-case basis if that penalty has been applied inappropriately.”

Inslee announced this past Tuesday that he was using his executive power to suspend capital punishment while he remains governor. State law authorizes the governor to grant pardons or commute a death sentence, but O’Ban’s legislation would prohibit a governor from exercising his or her powers of clemency until after receiving a recommendation from the state Clemency and Pardons Board.

Specifically, said the University Place lawmaker, the bill states this change is necessary in order to avoid the arbitrary or capricious use of the governor’s pardoning power, the callous disregard of the opinions of victims in the governor’s decision-making process or the potential that the governor could in effect override policy decisions made through the legislative branch.

“Not only did the governor overstep his authority in this matter, he acted without consulting lawmakers or more importantly the families of the victims of these men who committed terrible crimes,” O’Ban added.

“The mother of a woman who was raped and stabbed to death by one of these men asked me to read her statement, saying what the governor did was wrong, that the people of Washington voted for the death penalty and if it is going to be rescinded, it needs to be done through a vote of the people. It’s not just up to him.”

Three of the nine men on death row in Washington’s prisons committed their crimes in Pierce County, part of which is in the 28th Legislative District represented by O’Ban.

Even though the governor didn’t announce his plans until after the legislative cutoff for considering bills, O’Ban’s bill could still be considered by a committee if it has a budget cost or savings.

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