SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — An effort to abolish the death penalty in Illinois won’t go forward in the final hours of this year’s legislative session, supports are saying, because they don’t yet have the 60 votes they need to get it by the House. They will try again in the first week of January.
“We’re in the high 50s,” Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told me a little while ago. He said there was “not enough oxygen” around this week to push it through the system, meaning too much other high-profile stuff was going on. (Civil unions, gambling expansion, pension reform, to name a few.)
The current lame duck session will reconvene in the first week of January, giving the abolition proponents a narrow window before the Jan. 12 swearing-in of the new class of lawmakers. It will still be a Democratic majority after that, but a narrower one, and none of them will be on their way out of office.
Illinois has had a moratorium on executions since 2000, when it was discovered the state had 13 innocent men on death row. Death sentences have continued being handed down, but the state has indefinitely stopped all executions, pending on-going review of the system.
Death penalty opponents this month have launched a major push to take the death penalty off the state’s books completely, arguing that the special legal reviews and safeguards necessary for death-penalty cases are costing the cash-strapped state millions of dollars, for what has become a merely hypothetical sentence. (Here’s our earlier story on the new lobbying effort.)
The movement to get the abolition vote through the system during the lame duck session has, itself, been controversial, with pro-death-penalty supporters accusing them of trying to ram it through the system with the support of outgoing lawmakers.
The bill is SB3539.