Bills aim to kill state’s death penalty

GeneralAssemblyDome2017-fBy Marnie McAllister, Record Editor

The use of the death penalty in Kentucky runs contrary to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” which allows for the punishment only if there is no other means to protect society and the accused’s guilt is certain.

Exonerations around the country have shown time and time again that sometimes the criminal justice system  convicts an innocent person. And there’s no doubt that Kentucky’s prisons are secure.

Lawmakers from both parties seem to recognize the penalty’s flaws, too.

Bipartisan bills to abolish capitol punishment in the commonwealth were filed Feb. 7 in both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly. And co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle continued to sign on as the week progressed.

Father Patrick Delahanty, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville and chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said support for abolition has grown among Catholics and Republicans in recent years.

“The presumption among some people is this is a Democratic issue,” said Father Delahanty. “So after the Kentucky elections (in November) moved the House into Republican control, I’ve had any number of supporters ask, ‘Do we have any chance to get this passed?’

“It’s a simple answer, ‘Yes.’ This issue is no longer a partisan issue,” the priest said. “Members of both political parties in Kentucky and the United States have begun to support abolition of the death penalty.”

Rep. Jason Nemes, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Louisville and a member of St. Margaret Mary Church, filed House Bill (HB) 251. And Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville who has filed abolition bills for several years, filed Senate Bill (SB) 131.

Rep. Nemes said during a phone interview Feb. 13 that there are multiple reasons to abolish the death penalty, but identified three primary ones.

First, he said, “It’s a matter of faith to me. There are good people on both sides (of the issue). I don’t think that we should be putting people to death.”

Rep. Nemes added, his concern isn’t focused on the soul of the perpetrator, “It’s about our collective souls as Kentuckians.”

As a Republican lawmaker, he noted, he’s also concerned about government overreach.

“I think a properly confined government only takes its citizens’ life or liberty to the extent necessary to protect others,” he said.

Finally, he said, he’s concerned about the role of government when it comes to “irrevocable” decisions.

“I don’t fully trust the government to do much,” he said. “It’s a collection of human beings and human beings are fallible.”

If government can’t be trusted to fill pot holes, it can’t be trusted with a person’s life, he said, noting that one person on Kentucky’s death row has been exonerated.

“It’s an unnecessary risk.,” he added.

Father Delahanty urges constituents to meet with lawmakers, especially new legislators who haven’t made up their minds about the issue.

He encourages constituents to contact lawmakers about the issue and to visit lawmakers in Frankfort on Wednesday mornings for the next several weeks. Individuals may set up their own appointments or contact the coalition for assistance at 636-1330.

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