SALT LAKE CITY — Another attempt to abolish the death penalty in Utah fell short Friday.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, pulled his bill that would have repealed capital punishment. HB379 would have banned the state from seeking the death penalty for aggravated murder committed after May 7, 2018. It would not have affected the nine men now on Utah's death row.
Given the lateness in the session and the impact the measure would have on the state, it's best left to a future legislature, he told his colleagues on the House floor.
"This is not an easy issue," said Froerer, who isn't seeking re-election after 12 years in the House. "I appreciate that the dialog was always done in a respectful, thoughtful manner."
Froerer couldn't muster the votes to pass the bill in the House, marking the second time in three years that an effort to repeal the death penalty wilted in the chamber. In 2016, the Senate narrowly passed a repeal bill but it was held in the House.
Froerer is among a number of Republican legislators, including House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who favor doing away with executions. Hughes also is not seeking re-election.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, a staunch proponent of capital punishment, commended Froerer for being a "gentleman" as lawmakers debated the issue.
"I just want to thank the representative for looking at the bill and the body and making the motion so we don't spend a lot of time debating something that may or may not have gone through," he said.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, thanked Froerer for those who "looked at this a different way."
"It's always good to debate these issues, issues of life and death, issues that affect many, many people — people in the system, people out of the system, the assailant, the families," he said.
The House Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Committee last week held an emotional hearing on the issue where families of murder victims testified for and against the death penalty. The panel endorsed the bill 7-4.
Utah has executed seven men since the nationwide moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1976, the last one being Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. Four died by lethal injection and three by firing squad.