We aren’t even through the first two months of 2021 and already you can tell there’s something different in the air.
Virginia repealed its death penalty with a breathtakingly quick campaign.
And now it appears Ohio may be next, though they do have competition coming from Wyoming.
Buckeye State lawmakers announced a repeal bill last week with unprecedented bipartisan support. A total of four Republicans and four Democrats have announced they will be co-sponsors with State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, and Senator Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, taking the lead.
Joining Antonio and Huffman are State Sens. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, and Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, along with State Reps. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, and Adam Miller, D-Columbus.
This comes as a budding coalition of conservatives have been mobilizing against capital punishment in the state for the past two years. Their activism coincides with a significant shift in public opinion on the ground as well.
In 2014, a poll found 68% of Ohioans supported the death penalty. But by last year that number had almost flipped with 60% now supporting repeal.
They’ve been backed up by Republican leadership.
Governor Mike DeWine has displayed a dedication to constitutional principles as he has steadfastly refused to carry out executions since taking office, pointing to the state’s inability to legally obtain lethal injection drugs that would meet constitutional requirements.
That position has given the state a de facto moratorium on executions and one that doesn’t seem poised to change anytime soon.
Taking DeWine’s stance a step further, several high-profile conservatives have signed on to the Ohio chapter of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, including former Attorney General Jim Petro, former Governor Bob Taft, and former Congressman Pat Tiberi.
Republicans in the Buckeye State have evolved on this issue for the same reasons conservatives across the country are reconsidering their stances: the number of innocent people discovered in the system is far too great for any person to ignore, especially those of us who consider ourselves advocates of individual liberty and anti-abortion values.
That number stands at one person exonerated for every five executions in the state of Ohio — and one for every eight nationally.
There are, of course, many other concerns for conservatives and liberals alike.
The death penalty is the most expensive part of the criminal justice system on a per offender basis while providing no deterrent effect whatsoever.
That makes it a significant opportunity cost that actually makes communities less safe.
This was a rising issue before 2020, but in the wake of strapped state budgets post-pandemic, the expense of the death penalty is a luxury many will no longer be able to justify.
Additionally, data has consistently shown that the death penalty is randomly applied, having little to do with the nature of the crime and certainly falling short of targeting the "worst or the worst."
What it does target is people of color, with Black and Latino defendants overly represented on the nation’s death rows based on crime rate statistics. On top of that, the system prioritizes white victims by reserving the death penalty primarily for those cases.
And we know that death rows predominately contain people with serious mental illnesses, impairments, disabilities, and histories of deep trauma. In recognition of this, Ohio recently passed a bill to exempt those with the most severe mental illnesses from execution.
But coupled with the other issues that plague this system, there is a recognition that further action is needed.
Of his colleagues, Senator Huffman observed, "I think that they’re continuing to form their thoughts, but I believe that the majority are leaning toward getting rid of the death penalty." Senator Antani noted, "Our party will see that this is a pro-life issue. Our party will see this as (an anti-) big-government issue.?"
If Ohio follows through, it will become the 24th state to abolish the death penalty.
As mentioned, there are other states in line as well.
In 2019, Wyoming fell only four votes shy of repealing the death penalty.
After taking 2020 off for a budgetary session, the Cowboy State may make another run at it this year. And eight other states have seen Republican-sponsored bills in the past two years.
The death penalty’s days are numbered.
And the quicker proponents accept it, the faster we can divert resources away from this failed, unjust system and into responses to violence that actually work to increase public safety.
All eyes on Ohio.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Read Hannah Cox's Reports — More Here.
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