New Jersey’s Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill to create a commission to study the costs, effects, fairness, and risks of capital punishment. To become law, the bill, passed by the Assembly in January, must be approved by the Senate before the legislative session ends Jan. 13.
The Newark Star-Ledger says the first comprehensive study of New Jersey’s death penalty since it was reimposed in 1982 may be opposed by Gov. James E. McGreevey. “The governor has not seen the need for a commission or a moratorium because the courts have been aggressive in making sure capital punishment is administered fairly,” spokesman Micah Rasmussen said.
A provision that would have imposed a moratorium on executions was removed to gain bipartisan support.
A commission would bring New Jersey into a national effort by death penalty opponents to persuade the 38 states that allow capital punishment to rethink their laws. Only Illinois has approved a comprehensive study commission like the one proposed in New Jersey, said Jane Henderson of the anti-death penalty Quixote Center in Maryland. A similar bill is under consideration in Ohio.
Illinois is the only state that has imposed a moratorium on executions. Maryland’s ended this year under new Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The North Carolina General Assembly plans to take up a proposed moratorium next spring.
New Jersey has taken a narrower look at the death penalty. The state supreme court studied whether it was used in an arbitrary or racially biased manner, and concluded there was not enough evidence to strike down the law. A death penalty commission under Gov. Christie Whitman suggested reducing the length of the appeal process. The last execution in New Jersey occurred on Jan. 22, 1963. There are 14 people on death row.