The Senate passed legislation Friday that would permit the death penalty for drug dealers convicted of murder, rejecting pleas that the measure would be a move toward "reducing the civility" of society.
Utah Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both Republicans, voted for the measure.The election-year legislation was sent to the House on a 65-29 vote. The bill's fate is less certain in that chamber, where the House Judiciary Committee - which will consider it - has been hostile to capital punishment legislation in the past.
"Murder is murder, whether legal or illegal," said Sen. Dan Evans, R-Wash. "We are reducing the civility and the compassion of our society."
But Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., the bill's sponsor, said, "I believe society has a right to say we are outraged at certain acts, and the death penalty is the appropriate penalty in these cases."
Before final passage, lawmakers voted 66-28 to set aside a provision by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., that would have limited the bill's capital punishment provisions to drug dealers who are convicted of killing law enforcement officers.
On voice votes, they accepted a provision that would allow prison employees to refuse to participate in executions and rejected language that would have required prisoners to be killed in public. Both measures were sponsored by Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.
On Thursday, the Senate voted 69-27 to shut off debate, ending a filibuster by opponents who had stalled a vote.
"I'm not saying the death penalty will eliminate the drug problem, but I do think it will serve as a deterrent," said D'Amato.
But opponents decried the bill as election-year politics, saying it would do nothing to deter drug dealing and represented a cynical response to public demands to do something about illegal drugs.
Evans referred to a similar bill proposed in 1986 and said: "Once again, we're going for an election-year slam dunk on drugs. We're taking precipitous steps to indulge our own political vanity."
The D'Amato bill provides that the death penalty can be imposed on people who are convicted in federal courts of running a drug ring and who are then separately convicted of killing law enforcement officers or private citizens.
Many states, including those with severe drug problems, already have the death penalty and it hasn't had much deterrent effect, opponents of the bill said.