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Senate Rejects Bill Abolishing Death Penalty
02/23/2010

Senators rejected a bill to repeal Kansas' death penalty after a marathon debate Friday that was frequently as much about theology as crime and punishment.

The vote was 20-20, meaning the bill failed to get the required votes to send it to the House, which hasn't considered the issue all session. Senators said the repeal movement was over for the year.

The debate lasted nearly four hours. Several senators mentioned that the Kansas bishops of four Christian denominations had written a letter urging repeal of the death penalty.

The bill would have replaced the state's 1994 death penalty law and created a new sentence of life in prison without parole.

Ten men currently are under death sentences in Kansas. The proposed repeal wouldn't have affected those punishments. The state's last execution was in 1965.

Supporters of the death penalty said their faith promises an afterlife and that convicted murderers put to death will have to answer to their creator. Having the death penalty, they argued, speeds up that judgment.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill by striking the repeal language. He spoke of the victims and the pain they must endure every time the death penalty is debated.

Schmidt said even if the Senate passed the bill, it was unlikely to get a hearing this session, let alone pass the House. Even then, Schmidt said, Gov. Mark Parkinson has indicated that he's unlikely to sign a bill repealing the law he drafted as a legislator in 1994.

Senators rejected Schmidt's amendment by the same 20-20 vote, foreshadowing the bill's demise.

Bills to repeal the death penalty have been introduced over the past five years but never have made it as far as Friday's vote.

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