Updated with comments from state Senator Adam Kline (D-37).
It's no secret that the ACLU, bastion of socialist depravity that it is, opposes the death penalty. In fact, since 2009, the ACLU of Washington has unsuccessfully lobbied for legislation to kill Washington state’s beloved, 107-year-old tradition of putting people to death for crimes they've been deemed guilty of committing.*
And this year, the organization is stepping up its game: they’re currently hiring a death penalty campaign coordinator—in conjunction with the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty—to do educational outreach about the death penalty and, hopefully, successfully push through legislation that would replace the state's death penalty with life in prison (without the possibility of parole). Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU, says that the climate is right for such a change: other states, like Illinois, have overturned their death penalty laws; people are more aware of the associated costs ("It's actually not true that it costs less to kill people than it is to keep them behind bars for life," Honig says); and, perhaps most importantly, the state is still broker than Siddhartha in prison.
“Legislators are having to make all sorts of draconian cuts,” Honig says. “Now is the perfect time to look at the cost benefit of the death penalty versus life in prison.”
*The state's current death penalty law was adopted in 1981 but the death penalty has been exercised in Washington since 1904, according to the Department of Corrections.
But will legislators risk taking on such a traditionally toxic topic? "It's a difficult issue for electeds to take on," Honig acknowledges, "but there's been a lot of national publicity over people who were on death row in other states who were wrongly accused. Public opinion is changing; people are more aware and sensitive to the fact that the death penalty is the only penalty that is irrevocable."
State Senator Adam Kline (D-37), chair of the senate's Judiciary Committee, says there's next to no chance of moving a bill out of committee next year. "There’s a number of different arguments out there against the death penalty but none that will miraculously get a majority," Kline says. "I know we don’t have the majority, I counted the votes last year and I would've put it through in a heart beat. But I can tell you there’s not the five votes."
He adds: "This is one of those things that’s like gay marriage. It’s not going to happen in a year, it’s not going to happen in two years, but I believe it’s going to happen. It’s just a long-term undertaking—longer than my time in the legislature, I think."