UPDATED: Senate Judiciary panel passes bill to eliminate the death penalty

TOPEKA – The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill Friday that would abolish the state’s death penalty for crimes committed after July 1.

By a vote of 7-4, the bill now goes to the full Senate for discussion.

Senators had considered two bills: Senate Bill 208, which was debated last year, and Senate Bill 375, which replaces the death penalty with the crime of aggravated murder. The new crime comes with a mandatory life without parole sentence.

The committee tabled the first bill and moved forward Senate Bill 375.

Voting yes were Republican senators Dwayne Umbarger, Thayer; John Vratil, Leawood; Mary Pilcher Cook, Shawnee; Les Donovan, Wichita; Chairman Tim Owens, Overland Park, and Democratic senators Laura Kelly, Topeka and David Haley, Kansas City, Kan.

Voting no were Republican senators Jean Schodorf, Wichita; Derek Schmidt, Independence; Julia Lynn, Olathe and Terry Bruce, Hutchinson.

Schodorf said she was voting no in committee because she already knew she would vote that way on the Senate floor.

Schmidt, who is the chamber’s majority leader, urged the senators not to move the measure forward pointing out it was unlikely to succeed this year.

“The question is not is the death penalty going to be repealed this year,” he said. “The question is at what point does it stop this year.”

Others disagreed.

“People need to be able to review something as serious as a death penalty consideration because this is truly life and death we are talking about,” Owens said.

For more, read Saturday’s Wichita Eagle.