PHOTO/NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: The state's new execution chamber at the Nevada State Prison in Ely was completed in 2016 at a cost of $860,000. It has yet to be used.

After a month-long wait for the Nevada State Senate and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro to hold a fair, public hearing for a bill that proposes to abolish the death penalty in Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak and Cannizzaro said May 13 that they have blocked the bill from being heard. The bill, which was  abandoned despite broad public support, would have challenged our legislators and state elected officials to be bold and let Nevada serve as proving ground.

Their announcement came just one day before the May 14th legislative deadline.

Even though the bill, AB395, enjoyed clear support from the Assembly and the community, Gov. Sisolak and Senate Democrats have decided to continue this barbaric and racially discriminatory practice that has its roots in slavery and other unspeakable violence against Black Americans. 

We have the death penalty in place now, but it didn’t stop Amari Nicholson from being murdered. He  was a 2-year-old child who was allegedly killed by his mother’s boyfriend earlier this month. It hasn’t stopped anybody from being murdered. The death penalty hasn’t served as a deterrent and will continue to take more lives than it saves. 

The death penalty in Nevada is racially biased — 40% of the people on death row are Black despite only accounting for only 8 to 9% of the state’s population— and the state has the second-highest number of people on death row per capita in the nation. Just this past session in 2019, AB267 was passed to compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted in Nevada’s courts. We cannot maintain the death penalty while at the same time acknowledging that our judicial branch is capable of convicting the wrong person. 

We have to make sure when groups like the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty–who have been doing this work for over 20 years–speak out, the Legislature listens. They have been leading these conversations for decades, with people who are directly impacted. This includes victims and family survivors on both sides. They need to be heard and not ignored in order for elected officials to find a political way out. It’s embarrassing to have a legislature that prides itself on being diverse and women led, but can’t get this right. 

The decision to block the effort to give AB395 a fair, public hearing is undemocratic and unacceptable. This bill has unprecedented support from Nevadans, the people deserve to be heard.

It seems that sometimes a lot of these tough decisions are held hostage by people’s continued political careers. We have to ask ourselves: do we want to be a state that kills people, do we want to be responsible for the death of people who cause harm to our communities instead of doing the tough work and getting to the root causes of why this happens in our state.

In my home state of Colorado, all of the democrats who voted for repeal of the death penalty and faced re-election, won their elections, except for one for very unrelated reasons.

I hope Governor Sisolak and Senator Cannizzaro eventually listen to the community, and not think that we can have a post election cry fest and forget what happened here today. We will never forget if you kill the death penalty bill again. 

Laura Martin is the director for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which was founded in 1994 to bring together diverse and potentially competing organizations into one cohesive force for social and environmental justice in Nevada. Since 1994, PLAN has grown from its 12 original founding member groups to a membership of nearly 30 organizations.
PHOTO/NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS: The execution chamber in Ely. Nevada’s last execution took place in 2006 at the old Nevada State Prison in Carson City.

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