FRANKFORT — A Central Kentucky Democrat will be pushing legislation in the upcoming session that would abolish the death penalty in Kentucky.
Democratic state Rep. Carl Rollins of Midway drafted a measure that would make Kentucky's stiffest sentence life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Rollins bill calls for the term "capital punishment" to be stricken altogether from state law.
Similar legislation has been introduced intermittently in Kentucky over the past 25 years, but has never garnered enough support to pass.
The Rev. Patrick Delahanty, chairman of the Kentucky Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, said he's heartened that Rollins already posted the bill last week and it's ready to be filed when lawmakers convene on Jan. 8. Delahanty, a Catholic priest, said he senses growing support for the measure.
"There are people more and more concerned about ... the possibility of executing an innocent person," Delahanty said. "There's just a great deal of distrust in that system now."
Activists delivered more than 1,500 postcards to Gov. Steve Beshear in December asking that he sign no more death warrants and that he work to abolish the death penalty. They called the death penalty "a risky, arbitrary, unfair, ineffective and costly distraction from justice," and urged Kentucky to follow the lead of other states that have rejected capital punishment.
Kentucky has executed three people since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976, two by lethal injection and one in the electric chair.
"If Kentuckians wanted to do away with the death penalty, they would elect legislators who run on a platform of doing away with it," said Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders. "No one runs on that platform, not even the handful that file this legislation every year, because it doesn't represent the views of most Kentuckians. The sad truth of our society is the death penalty is a necessary punishment for society's most evil criminals. If, God forbid, another Sandy Hook school massacre happens here in Kentucky and the killer survives, Kentuckians want the death penalty as an option, and rightfully so."
Boone County Commonwealth's Attorney Linda Tally Smith said most prosecutors want the death penalty as an option for "the worst of the worst."
"Obviously, the state has gone to great lengths ... to make sure we're putting in place the safeguards necessary to ensure that we're reserving that punishment for the worst of the worst and also to make sure that all constitutional rights are protected," she said.
Smith declined to predict how Rollins' bill would fare. But she pointed out that lawmakers already have a busy agenda for a legislative session that's scheduled to last 30 days. They will attempt to reform the state's pension system for government retirees, update the state's tax code, and possibly deal with redrawing boundary lines around legislative districts.
"There are so many big items on their plate ... that I personally would have a hard time seeing that they would devote that much time to (the death penalty)," Smith said.