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Montana House panel halts bills to repeal death penalty, strike gay sex law

Montana House panel halts bills to repeal death penalty, strike gay sex law

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HELENA - House Republicans put a stop Friday to separate plans that would repeal the state's death penalty and get rid of an obsolete state law that criminalizes gay sex.

Both plans had cleared the state Senate - but the large Republican majority in the House Judiciary Committee tabled them and made it clear the GOP supermajority in that chamber won't allow either to advance.

The death penalty repeal would have replaced the punishment with life in prison without parole. Supporters argue the risk of killing an innocent person is too great, while opponents argue it remains valuable punishment for heinous crimes.

The judiciary committee has proven a stumbling block for a repeal of the death penalty since the 2005 session. The last time a measure to abolish the death penalty cleared the committee was in 2003, but it was defeated on the House floor.

Supporters still could try to override the committee with a floor vote, but with Republicans holding a 68-32 majority in the chamber the measure appears dead.

Also turned back was a plan to get rid of a state law making gay sex subject to criminal penalties - even though the courts have ruled it unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Republicans, in a 13-7 vote, stacked up against the idea of removing from the books the law offensive to the gay community, which has argued over the years that the antiquated law sends a hostile message.

But House Republicans stuck with their party's platform that calls for keeping the anti-gay law, even though many Senate Republicans had supported the idea in sending it to the other chamber.

"Voting to say this should stay on the books is truly a cruel act," said Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula. "When you cast that vote you said that I and other members of this Legislature who are gay or lesbian should go to prison for up to 10 years for whom I love. Don't come up to me later and say you are sorry."

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