FILE - Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola

The Louisiana State Penitentiary located in Angola.

A Louisiana House of Representatives committee on Tuesday advanced a long-shot bid to abolish the death penalty in the state.

House Bill 215 by Rep. Terry Landry, a New Iberia Democrat and former State Police superintendent, would apply only to offenses committed on or after Aug. 1. Inmates already on death row would not be affected.

Death penalty opponents say it is imposed overwhelmingly on poor, black defendants, and argue there is no proof that it deters criminals. They point out that death penalty convictions in Louisiana often are overturned, leading to fears that innocent people may be executed.

Conservative opponents argue that allowing the state to have the power to execute people is incompatible with the concept of limited government. Louisiana spent an average of at least $15.6 million annually to maintain its capital punishment policy between 2008 and 2017, according to a recent report, despite only executing one person who voluntarily waived his right to appeal during that time.

But supporters dispute the notion that the death penalty has no deterrent effect. They argue that some crimes are so heinous, only the death penalty can give victims’ families justice, regardless of the cost. Current law allows for the death penalty for first-degree murder, first-degree rape of a victim under 13 years old, and treason.

Landry has tried to eliminate Louisiana’s death penalty before. A proposed constitutional amendment with the same goal by Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican and former prosecutor, already has been soundly rejected by the state Senate.

The bill was advanced 8-7 on a party-line vote, with one independent voting for the measure with Democrats. As noted by The Associated Press, two Republican lawmakers on the panel weren’t present for the vote, which likely helped the bill move forward.

The Department of Corrections has blamed the lack of executions since 2010 on an inability to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections. Drug makers are said to be wary of being associated with the death penalty, so another measure up for debate in this year’s session seeks to keep those companies’ identities secret.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.