Bill moves forward that would bring death penalty back to state for some crimes

A senate subcommittee heard public comment on a proposed bill that would bring back the death penalty to Iowa only for some crimes like the murder of a law enforcement officer and multiple offenses of kidnapping, rape and murder. The death penalty was abolished over 50 years ago. (Caroline Cummings).

A Senate panel voted Monday afternoon to advance a bill that would bring back the death penalty, a practice abolished in Iowa over 50 years ago.

The bill would restore the eligibility of a capital punishment for "capital murder" crimes: first degree murder of a law enforcement officer or multiple offenses of first degree murder, kidnapping and rape of a minor.

Opponents told the committee that the death penalty is costly to the state, and that there is no clear evidence to support that having the death penalty curbs crime.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, said that he believes there should be a higher penalty for those who commit heinous crimes. He voted in favor of the bill.

"I don't think our system is designed on the penalties of deterrence alone. We design our system of penalties based on the punishment we deem appropriate" Dawson said. "There are cases out there that go above and beyond."

One woman charged that if members of the committee were in support of the "fetal heartbeat" bill that would ban most abortions in the state based on the assertion that life should be protected, they should vote "no" on the death penalty bill.

"I applaud those of you who stand for the heartbeat bill. But I would point out the hypocrisy for also asking for a bill to take away a heartbeat," said Patty Brown, an activist with Iowans Against the Death Penalty.

Many religious leaders from various groups spoke out against the bill, calling it morally wrong. But Pastor Dave Chyree, who is a preacher at the Church of Christ in Chariton, told the panel that taking a human life should always be taken seriously, but there should be higher penalties in place for those who take the lives of others.

"If you truly love life and believe it's a gift from God, there should be some kind of appropriate punishment for someone who wantonly goes out and takes human life," Chyree said.

Chief Deputy Iowa Attorney General Eric Tabor spoke on behalf of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, reading a letter stating that Iowa already has a "de facto" death penalty with life sentences because those convicted die in prison without ever being eligible for parole.

There is a similar bill to reinstate the death penalty moving through the House, though that bill is more expansive and is unlikely to advance. The Senate version is now eligible for a floor vote, surviving the first legislative deadline this week.

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