With help from a Yale organization, Connecticut might soon be killing the death penalty.
As the next session of the Connecticut General Assembly approaches, the Yale College Democrats have made it their major legislative priority to push for a state ban on the death penalty. Members of the organization gathered outside campus dining halls two weeks ago to ask students to sign letters opposing the death penalty and sent 419 signed letters to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy last Thursday, Nicole Hobbs ’14, one of the group’s board members, said.
“The death penalty just isn’t right in any civilized society,” Dems president Marina Keegan ’12 said. “It’s also impractical, a waste of taxpayers’ money and it encourages discrimination.”
Two years ago, Representative Gary Holder-Winfield brought forward a bill that would repeal the death penalty, which the Dems endorsed, Hobbs said. The bill passed the General Assembly before former Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed it.
Holder-Winfield reintroduced the repeal bill earlier this year, but it was struck down in the General Assembly, Hobbs said.
When the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last month brought the discussion of capital punishment into media spotlight, Hobbs said the Dems decided to take up the cause again, with membership coordinator Josh Rubin ’14 organizing the letter-signing event.
“We wanted to both make students aware that Connecticut still has the death penalty, as well as remind our legislators and governor that hundreds of Yale students think the death penalty is immoral and ineffective public policy,” Rubin said.
Although Hobbs admits that the state is facing more pressing issues, she said that the Dems choose to sponsor Connecticut General Assembly bills that are not already dominated by powerful lobby groups.
“We want to focus on issues that our lobbying is likely to have an impact on,” Hobbs said, citing the Dems’ support for the DREAM act earlier this year in conjunction with lobbying groups from other schools. The DREAM act allows undocumented students in Connecticut to pay in-state tuition at state colleges.
Hobbs added that the Dems once again are trying to form coalitions to enhance their influence: The group has been working with the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty for this effort.
CNADP executive director Ben Jones praised the Dems’ initiative, adding that their involvement “sends a strong signal that we can’t wait on this issue any longer.”
He attributed the failure of the repeal bill in the last session of the General Assembly to the ongoing trial for the 2007 triple homicide in Cheshire, Conn., which Jones said increased public support for capital punishment and led legislators to vote against the bill.
Jones added that some legislators have promised to vote for a death penalty repeal bill in the next session, making it likely to pass. The bill also has strong support from the governor, Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said.
“The Governor has been very clear that if a bill reaches his desk that abolishes the death penalty going forward, he would sign it,” Flanagan said.
But the death penalty continues to be a contentious issue. A Quinnipiac University poll last March found that 67 percent of Connecticut residents support capital punishment.
Still, Holder-Winfield said he thinks the Dems’s initiative could be a significant factor in the political discussion.
“I think a good volume of letters will certainly have some impact, even if that impact is difficult to quantify,” he said.
Although his anti-death penalty stance was a significant part of Malloy’s 2010 campaign platform, Holder-Winfield warned that “governors have changed their minds on whether they want to follow through on their promises at certain times.”
Hobbs said she hopes the Dems’s efforts will allow Governor Malloy to take a stronger stand to repeal the death penalty.
“We can help him advocate this bill,” she said. “It’s important for him to know that we’re behind him.”
Connecticut and New Hampshire are the only two states in New England with the death penalty. The death penalty has been used once in Connecticut since it was reinstated in 1976, and the state currently has 10 people on death row.