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GOP bill to limit governor's death penalty options fails

4:17 PM, Feb 24, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - In a not-too-subtle rebuke of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado,) lawmakers in the House state affairs committee heard a bill that would have limited the authority of Colorado's governor to grant reprieves in cases of pending executions.

HB 1197 died in a 6 to 3 vote on Monday. 

Rep. Libby Szabo (R-Arvada) was the lone sponsor of the bill that would have limited the governor's ability to grant reprieve to 90 days at a time and only for reasons of "administrative difficulties."

Gov. Hickenlooper was widely criticized for his decision in the pending execution of convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap. 

Rather than commute Dunlap's death sentence or carry it out, Hickenlooper opted to leave the choice to the next governor of the state, stating in his executive order that his beliefs on the death penalty had shifted.

Hickenlooper told 9NEWS that he understood it was a poor decision from a political standpoint, but said he didn't want his personal reservations about the death penalty to permanently end the practice of capital punishment in Colorado.

In a recent Quinnipiac poll, Colorado voters said they wanted to keep the death penalty by a margin of 66-28.

Likewise, the voters disapproved of Hickenlooper's handling of the issue 36-28.

The power of the governor to grant reprieves (along with commutations and pardons) is specifically listed in the state constitution, listing only treason and impeachment as limits to this power.

Because of that, Gov. Hickenlooper's chief legal counsel Jack Finlaw argues that Szabo's bill is unconstitutional, saying that it "attempts to place guardrails around the governor's authority to grant a reprieve in a capital case."

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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