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Death penalty repeal effort blocked by two Democrats

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, explains her decision to vote agains a bill to repeal Colorado's death penalty. Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who also voted no, looks on.

Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, explains her decision to vote agains a bill to repeal Colorado's death penalty. Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who also voted no, looks on.

DENVER — Two Democrats broke ranks Tuesday and voted against a bill to repeal Colorado’s death penalty, killing the measure and ending a week-long legislative soap opera surrounding it.

A week after the House Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on House Bill 1264 after hearing nine hours of public testimony, the panel took up the measure again Tuesday afternoon.

Even as the hearing began, the sponsors scrambled to determine whether they had the votes to pass the legislation out of the committee; and, upon realizing they did not, they pushed ahead with an up or down vote anyway rather than tabling the measure.

After an hour of discussion, the measure went down on a 4-6 vote with two Democrats, Reps. Lois Court of Denver and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood joining the panel’s four Republicans and voting no.

“I heard from a lot of my constituents and this was something the did not support,” Pettersen, in her first year as a lawmaker, told reporters after the vote.

Court acknowledged being conflicted about the decision.

“In my heart, I know this is the right thing to do,” Court told the committee, before acknowledging that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s indication that he may veto the measure gave her pause.

“I know we should repeal the death penalty. I also know the governor is struggling with it and that he is not confident that the people of Colorado are comfortable with this approach at this point.”

During a caucus lunch last Tuesday just prior to the initial committee hearing, Hickenlooper informed House Democrats that he was considering a veto when one lawmaker asked him about the bill.

Roughly twelve hours later, the House Judiciary Committee postponed a vote on H.B. 1264 due to concerns from many Democratic lawmakers who supported the bill but worried about a controversial vote on something that Hickenlooper might be likely to veto.

Heading into that hearing, Democrats and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, indicated that they had the six votes needed to move the measure forward.

“The death penalty does not serve a purpose, it is not fairly and consistently applied and it is not necessary for justice,” Levy said just prior to the vote.

The failure of this legislation means that a counter-measure to send the question of repeal to the statewide ballot, brought by Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who supports the death penalty, will likely be killed Wednesday.