Senate panel’s chair ‘putting the brakes’ on death penalty bill

DES MOINES — A bid to allow executions for convicted cop killers and those who kidnap, rape and murder children in Iowa has essentially been tabled for the year.

Republican Brad Zaun of Urbandale, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, this afternoon said he has just two days left to take action on policy bills in his committee and death penalty legislation will not be on the agenda.

“I’ve got a full plate and I’m trying to prioritize things and, right now, it’s not my priority,” Zaun said during an interview with Radio Iowa and The Cedar Rapids Gazette. “It’s my decision to do this.”

Zaun supports giving Iowa courts the option of a death sentence for those convicted of murdering a peace officer or a child who’d been kidnapped and raped.

“I’m not a death penalty advocate, but in this very narrowly written bill, I would support that,” Zaun said. “…But as judiciary committee chair, I am putting the brakes on that bill.”

A more than hour-long hearing on the proposal Monday afternoon sparked a mini-debate among a few senators. Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, took issue with many of those who testified against capital punishment.

“I look forward to the day when unborn babies are defended with the same volume and strenuous defense as a baby rapist…or cop killer,” Schultz said.

Democrat Tony Bisignano of Des Moines was in the state senate in the 1990s when a death penalty bill was soundly defeated.

“It does grab us internally to say: ‘We want revenge. This makes me sick!’” Bisignano said Monday. “And then we stop and think: ‘Are we the judge?’ There is only one judge and I’ll leave it to him.”

Earlier this month, a bill that would have allowed a death sentence for first degree murder convictions stalled in the Iowa House. A death penalty supporter in the House or Senate could try to tack the issue onto another bill, but the rules for legislative debate make that a difficult, if not impossible task.

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