Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Wyoming Governor considering moratorium on death penalty to save money

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon told lawmakers he was considering a moratorium on death penalty as a way to save money ahead of a wave of budget cuts in response to declining state revenue, reported the Casper Star Tribune.
The announcement, which came in a meeting with members of the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee, would temporarily bring an end to the little-used practice of capital punishment in Wyoming.
“I’m looking very seriously at a moratorium on the death penalty,” Gordon said. “Whatever I can do to forestall that is an option. It costs us around a million dollars every time that is brought up. These are just luxuries — luxuries, that we will no longer be able to afford.”
While the Wyoming Legislature has so far been reluctant to eliminate the death penalty, Gordon said that the state’s looming fiscal crisis makes maintaining the death penalty an untenable option as he seeks to implement budget cuts of up to 20 percent across the board.
The state is facing a $1.5 billion revenue hole due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as downturns in the energy industry.
Wyoming currently has no prisoners on death row. Some lawmakers have pushed to end the death penalty, arguing that maintaining a capital punishment system that’s rarely used is costly and unnecessary. Annually, more than $1 million is set aside to train public attorneys for the possibility of dealing with death penalty cases that rarely come across their desks — a selling point fiscal conservatives have used to try and convince their Republican colleagues to eliminate the practice in Wyoming.
“No government program in Wyoming is a bigger waste than the death penalty,” Cheyenne Republican Rep. Jared Olsen, who has been spearheading the effort to repeal the death penalty in Wyoming, wrote in an op-ed in the Star-Tribune over the weekend. “It should be the first to go.”
Gordon’s announcement was quickly praised Monday by a number of groups that have worked to oppose the death penalty over the past year, including the national organization Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty, which began a repeal campaign in Wyoming early last year after an effort to repeal the practice fell short in the Wyoming Senate.
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