Grace Notes: Death penalty debate is no place for political games | Stephanie Grace

So let me get this straight. A proponent of the death penalty co-sponsors a bill to abolish it, then casts the deciding vote to make sure it doesn’t become law, and then says he did it all because he’s frustrated that more people aren’t being put to death.

And we wonder why people think politicians are slippery.

The death penalty lives on in Louisiana.

The slippery pol in question here is Winnsboro Republican Steve Pylant, whose “no” vote on House Bill 101 Wednesday caused the measure to go down in committee, 8-9. The move to reconsider Louisiana’s stance on the difficult issue is now apparently over for the legislative session.

Pylant insisted afterwards that his co-authorship was not disingenuous. He said he was simply trying to draw attention to the fact that Louisiana rarely actually executes prisoners on death row. This despite Pylant’s testimony in a Senate committee last month that the cost of providing adequate defense for those accused of the worst crimes is prohibitive — and despite the fact that his vote apparently blindsided the bill’s primary author, New Iberia Democrat Terry Landry.

“He co-authored the bill; I just think that it’s not the way I would conduct business with a colleague,” Landry said. “I’d give them the decency of saying I can’t support it.”

It’s also not the way to conduct business when we’re talking about life and death matters. Louisiana’s a conservative state, and abolishing the death penalty was always an uphill battle, but the move this year had bipartisan leadership from legislators with real law enforcement credentials. Landry is the former superintendent of state police, and Baton Rouge Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor is a onetime prosecutor under Harry Connick in New Orleans.

The fact that the idea made it through Senate committee and came close in a House committee suggests that plenty of lawmakers might be ready to take a hard look at the morality and cost of keeping the punishment on the books, just as they are considering a criminal justice reform package aimed at reducing Louisiana’s world-leading incarceration rate.

This is serious stuff, and it takes courage for lawmakers to take it on despite the risk of being labeled soft on crime. It should be the last subject on which anyone should be playing games. 

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.