Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in the Seattle Times and the Medford (Ore.) Mail Tribune. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Washington’s death penalty has squandered millions in public resources and been applied unevenly, especially to people of color and those in urban areas.
The state House should follow the Senate in approving Senate Bill 5339. It’s time to take that ineffective and unconstitutional law off the books.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled in October that the way Washington administered the death penalty was unconstitutional, but the court’s action did not eliminate capital punishment in the state. To purge the penalty from state law, the Legislature must vote to repeal.
Use of Washington’s death penalty was racially biased and arbitrarily administered, the justices ruled. Opponents have been saying that for years. Research quoted in the Supreme Court decision found that, in this state, “black defendants were four and a half times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants.”
The Supreme Court acknowledged that the Legislature could “fix” the death penalty and make it more fair. But this Legislature and the lawmakers who will follow in its footsteps should not be allowed to do so.
Lawmakers have failed for years to pass laws similar to SB 5339. Now, with the court ruling affirming credible arguments against it, is the perfect time to end Washington’s death penalty.
Yes, some Washingtonians still believe the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. That is not the opinion of many government officials prosecuting crimes, including longtime King County prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg, who has said on these pages: “It is my duty to report that the death penalty law in our state is broken and cannot be fixed. It no longer serves the interests of public safety, criminal justice, or the needs of victims.”
Since Washington reinstated the death penalty in 1981, 33 people were sentenced to die, although some had their sentences changed on appeal, and five have been executed. Gov. Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on executions in 2014. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling converted the sentences for the state’s remaining eight death-row inmates to life in prison without release.
In the past 15 years, seven states have ended their death penalties and Washington, Colorado and Oregon adopted moratoriums. Only a few states continue to execute prisoners, including Texas, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma, and nationally death sentences have decreased dramatically.
The decrease is due, in part, because few municipalities can afford the cost of trial and death-penalty appeals. Seeking the death penalty adds at least $1 million to the cost of prosecution in Washington state.
The death penalty squanders public resources, has been applied unevenly and is not a deterrent to crime. It should be abolished for good in Washington state.
Oregon is playing oil train roulette
Oregon’s wide-open embrace of corporate campaign contributions has repercussions across a number of industries, and results in more lenient environmental laws than in neighboring West Coast states. That disparity is especially pronounced in the railroad industry, specifically regarding tank car shipments of hazardous crude oil to export facilities in and near Portland.
It’s an established fact that corporate interests gave more money per capita to winning Oregon legislative candidates than in any other state. The scope of the industry largess was detailed in a series of stories in The Oregonian last month.
Now, in reports from Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Oregonian, we learn that one company is ramping up shipments of heavy crude from Canadian tar sands to a terminal in Portland, but without notifying state environmental officials or emergency responders, who would be responsible for dealing with a spill or a fire. There is nothing illegal about this because Oregon law does not require such notification. In Washington, meanwhile, rail companies must provide 24-hour notice of oil shipments.
The company, Zenith Energy, greatly has increased its activity, from one marine shipment in 2017 to 10 in 2018. This year, it has filled five ships in the first three months.
Oregon has the weakest rules governing oil train shipments on the West Coast. Even after a Union Pacific oil train derailed and exploded near Mosier in the Columbia Gorge in 2016, Oregon lawmakers were unable to enact stronger safety rules.
Legislators managed to pass a ban on offshore drilling and fracking — neither of which is likely to happen here — but two bills that would have matched oil train rules already on the books in Washington died without a hearing this session — the fourth session in a row that considered new regulations but failed to enact any.
One bill that is still alive, House Bill 2209, would require railroads operating hazardous train routes to have oil spill contingency plans that are approved by the state Department of Environmental Quality. OPB reports the measure was written in collaboration with Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and other rail companies. This might have something to do with the fact that railroad campaign contributions average $3,542 per Oregon legislator, the sixth highest amount of any state in the country.
HB 2209 passed the House Committee On Veterans and Emergency Preparedness on Tuesday, and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. It should not be allowed to die there, but it shouldn’t be the last word on oil trains, either.
Even if the bill becomes law, regulators in Oregon still won’t know in advance when oil trains are arriving or how much oil they carry.
Lawmakers should summon the intestinal fortitude to get tough on oil shipments before the next accident, not after.