Death penalty may live on

A bipartisan group in the Colorado Senate has done what should have occurred much earlier this legislative session. They have separated funding for cold-case investigations from the possible demise of the state’s death penalty.

The compromise on House Bill 1274 was forged by a number of lawmakers, led by Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a Grand Junction Republican, and Sen. John Morse, a Democrat from Colorado Springs.

Even though it comes up with as much money for cold-case investigations as the bill originally would have, it has supporters of the original bill in a lather. That’s hardly surprising, since the real aim of HB 1274 and its supporters was to eliminate the death penalty. Funding a cold-case unit within the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was just a side issue to win support for ending the death penalty.

The original bill would have provided funding for the new CBI cold-case unit using the purported savings that would come to the state if it abandoned the death penalty. But the actual amount of money that would have been saved if there were no death penalty was a subject of considerable dispute. There were not-unreasonable fears that some of the $1 million-plus in annual funding for the cold-case unit would have to come from other sources in the state’s general fund.

The Senate compromise reached Monday, and passed by the entire Senate Tuesday, would leave the death penalty alone. Instead, it would establish a $2.50 surcharge on all traffic tickets and criminal convictions in the state. The estimated $1 million a year from the surcharge would be distributed directly to local law enforcement agencies to solve cold cases, instead of creating a new unit within the CBI.

We’ve repeatedly made it clear that we’re not fans of increased taxes and fees. But adding $2.50 to the cost convicted scofflaws must pay is about as benign a way to raise money for cold-case investigations as there is.

Equally important, the amended version of HB 1274 leaves Colorado’s death penalty intact.

And that’s something we strongly support. Colorado uses its death penalty rarely, and that’s how things ought to remain. But the death penalty is an option that needs to be available in certain circumstances.

Sponsors of the original bill, and those who support ending the death penalty, hope they can revive that part of the bill when it is sent back to the House. But House members shouldn’t allow that to occur. The Senate compromise on HB 1274 is far more responsible than the original version.


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