Michigan House votes against death penalty

BY JAMEEL NAQVI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 19, 2004

A proposal that would give Michigan voters the choice to amend
the state constitution to allow the death penalty in cases of
first-degree murder failed in the Legislature yesterday. The
measure fell short of the two-thirds supermajority required for the
legislation to pass to the state Senate.

State Reps. Larry Julian (R-Lennon) and Alexander Lipsey
(R-Kalamazoo), who stood on opposite sides of the issue,
characterized the two-and-a-half hour debate as impassioned yet
civil. “The government was working very well today,”
Julian said.

Julian, who last month reintroduced the proposal after it died
in the House five years ago, far short of a simple majority, said
he was disappointed that the proposed amendment would not be on the
ballot this November.

Citing a March 1 EPIC/MRA poll that showed the majority of
Michigan voters in support of such an amendment, Julian said he was
confident voters would pass the measure if it were put on the
ballot.

After respondents in that survey were informed that the current
penalty for first-degree murder is life without parole, the
percentage that said they would support Julian’s amendment
dropped from 56 to 45 percent.

A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds supermajorities
in the House and the Senate and a simple majority among Michigan
voters. Yesterday’s vote split 55 to 52 in favor of the
proposal, lacking 18 votes to constitute a 73-member
supermajority.

“I knew it was going to be a hard battle,” Julian
said. “We’re substantially closer than we were five
years ago. It’s tough to get two-thirds (support).

“I thought the House had changed. Term limits had brought
in some different representatives,” Julian added.

Disappointment aside, he expressed his faith in the same
constitutional principle that contributed to the failure of his
proposal.

“It should take a supermajority to change the
Constitution,” he said. “We shouldn’t be able to
amend it every day.”

Lipsey agreed with Julian that the House vote closely mirrored
divisions in the electorate. “It’s probably true that
we represented our constituents down the line,” he said.

But he added, “I believe if the population of Michigan
gave serious thought to the issue, they would reject it.”

Lipsey questioned the claim that a referendum is sheltered from
the influence of the Legislature. “When the Legislature.
“When the legislature puts something on the ballot,
it’s more of a recommendation than a question,” he
said. He added that a referendum exerts undue influence on voters
and goes against the principle of representative democracy.
“The legislature’s paid to make policy decisions and
they should.”

Julian defended his proposal as democratic, but Lipsey and other
opponents of the amendment have said supporters of efforts to
rescind Michigan’s 158-year ban on executions can bring the
amendment to a statewide vote if they collect enough
signatures.

Lipsey said the proposal’s defeat would silence supporters
in the state legislature for the time being. “I don’t
think it’s an issue that’s going to come up again
soon,” he said.

Julian did not reject the possibility that the amendment could
again see the light of day in the Michigan legislature. “I
don’t think this issue will go away,” he said.
Julian’s crusade may have to be taken up by another lawmaker
after he leaves the House at the end of this year due to term
limits.

He introduced his proposal just days after two Detroit police
officers were shot to death during a routine traffic stop last
month.

“I believe it is the proper punishment for first-degree
murder and I will always believe that,” he said.