May 6, 2009

Death penalty bill an argument for single-issue legislation

Filed under: Publications — grahamophone @ 10:47 am

The Colorado state senate passed a death penalty ban yesterday, except it now has nothing to do with the death penalty. The senate stripped the death penalty provision out of a house bill on the issue. I think the proposal points to the need for single-issue legislation at the state and federal level.

The Colorado bill would have repealed the death penalty, which is widely considered more costly than life imprisonment. It would have then used the state savings to fund the Colorado Bureau of Investigation cold-cases department. Instead, the senate version strips the death penalty language from the bill and instead funds the CBI unit with a $2.50 fee charged to convicts.

The state house must now vote a second time on the same bill number with very different language. Other bloggers and commentators commended the senate move as a crafty way to close a law enforcement funding gap without having to oppose the death penalty.

I don’t want legislators to be crafty with other lawmakers’ bills. I want them to take a public stance on sometimes difficult issues. The death penalty ban narrowly passed the house, and faced unknown prospects in the senate. Colorado residents deserved the chance to see their senators’ votes on a significant and controversial death penalty ban. Even if the bill died in committee, the committee members would have to justify their position.

I think single-issue legislation could clean up government, provide a clean, transparent way to get rid of the “pork” and “earmarks.” The bill riders were a focal point in the 2008 presidential campaign, but President Obama has done little to tackle the abuse and additional spending. In fact, his stimulus program was attacked for having a hundred times as many earmarks as this person.

Instead of tweaking legislation or stuffing it with questionable clauses and riders, legislatures would be forced to vote on single issues. Granted, this would lead to more voting, but perhaps they could adopt the “consent agenda” format used by city councils and school boards. Uncontroversial bills could be packaged into one group for an up-or-down vote. Any item a representative didn’t like could be removed from the consent group for a single vote.


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