Peoria Journal Star

July 19, 2002

Death penalty bill moves forward 
LaHood pleased Senate panel OKs DNA, counsel reform 


By DORI MEINERT 
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate Judiciary Committee took the first step toward reforming the nationís death penalty system Thursday, approving a measure aimed at giving inmates greater access to DNA testing to prove their innocence and ensuring they have competent counsel at trial. 

The bill, approved 12-7 by the Senate panel, faces significant hurdles on the Senate floor. 

But supporters hope the action will add some momentum to their efforts. 

"Itís a big step," said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, who has authored a similar bill in the House. 

Itís the first committee action since the bills were introduced more than two years ago. 

The Senate committee approval "will send a message to the House that itís a good bill and that there are some . . . flaws in the system that this bill will correct," LaHood said. 

LaHoodís bill has been stalled in the House Judiciary Committee despite a majority of House members signaling support by signing on as co-sponsors.

LaHood said there have been some discussions with committee leaders about scheduling a vote that leave him optimistic. 

But he and other supporters acknowledge theyíre running out of time to have something enacted this year. 

"Itís controversial to the extent that some people believe in the death penalty and theyíre not going to give up on that," LaHood said. "I believe in the death penalty, but I also believe that the system is flawed and that it needs to be fixed." 

Both the House and Senate measures were prompted by Illinois Gov. George Ryanís moratorium on death penalties in his state two years ago and the national debate that ensued. 

The bill that emerged from the Senate committee was the result of lengthy negotiations that attracted the support of all 10 Democrats on the panel, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, and two Republicans, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas.