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Death Penalty Doesn't Get Final House Debate

Brian Grimmett

A debate over whether or not to halt the death penalty in Utah ended without lawmakers acting on legislation as time ran out on the last day of the 2016 general session.

Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart worked frantically on the last day of the session trying to keep his bill alive, but ultimately he just couldn’t muster up the votes he needed.

“It’s OK," he says. "We went far and we went fast and probably makes some sense to let the public catch up with the dialogue we’ve had.”

Last week Urquhart’s bill narrowly passed the Senate. He says while he’s disappointed there was no House debate, he believes starting the conversation about the death penalty has made a difference.

“Originally I didn’t have the votes in committee, until I talked with people and people changed their minds," he says. "I didn’t have the votes on the floor until we had conversations and people changed their minds. Same thing happened in the House committee and I think the same thing would have happened on the House floor. Would have been nice to have another week to discuss it.”

This is Urquhart’s last session as a legislator, but Rep. Eric Hutchings, who sponsored the bill in the House, says discussion about the necessity of the death penalty will go forward.

“And the reality is we may come back a year from now, study it, get into tons of details and realize we may not have a viable alternative for those really, just disturbingly evil people out there," Hutchings says. "But we at least need to talk about that, and ask the question, right?”

While the House didn’t debate the bill on the floor, the death penalty did come up when the brother of a man the state executed a few years ago started shouting from the gallery. He was removed by State Troopers and later released. 

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