HARRISBURG, Pa. —A divided Pennsylvania House of Representatives weighed in Wednesday against Gov. Tom Wolf's practice of issuing reprieves to death-row inmates scheduled for execution, passing a resolution that urged him to reverse the policy.
The Republican-controlled House voted 119-71 in favor of the Republican-penned resolution that said the Democrat's effective moratorium on the death penalty "exhibits an astounding disregard for the additional and unnecessary heartache" of the families of death row inmates' victims.
"The governor's action in standing side by side with the inmates on death row, fighting to overturn their sentences even as he expresses confidence in their guilt, makes a mockery of his claim that he 'stands with victims of violence,'" the resolution said.
The resolution also said governors may not nullify a law or reverse a court verdict because of their own personal disapproval with the state's legislative and legal processes.
It has no binding legal effect on the governor, who began the moratorium in February, not long after taking office, calling the state's capital punishment system error-prone and expensive.
Seven Republicans voted against it, while 11 Democrats voted "yes."
Minority Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton, said he voted against the measure despite a 25-year record of voting for the death penalty because he considered it to be a meaningless vote designed to embarrass Wolf.
The prime sponsor, Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, said during floor debate that prosecutors support the resolution.
"If you feel that our death penalty is killing the wrong people, then introduce a bill to repeal it," Vereb told fellow lawmakers.
Philadelphia Rep. Mike O'Brien, among several Democrats who spoke out against the resolution, called it "nothing but a total hissy fit."
"To have your motive questioned on the floor of why you drafted this bill," Vereb responded, "calling it a 'hissy fit,' respectfully, is skullduggery."
The governor's spokesman said Wednesday that the House's vote did nothing to change Wolf's position.
Wolf has said he plans to issue reprieves at least until he can review an overdue report by a legislative task force examining the death penalty. So far he's issued three such reprieves - to Terrance Williams, Hubert Lester Michael and Robert Diamond.
Pennsylvania has only executed three people since the death penalty was legalized in the 1970s, the most recent in 1999.
Source: Associated Press, June 10, 2015
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