The first month of 2024 marks the start of new legislative sessions for many states and a number of new proposals pertaining to the death penalty.

Efforts to Abolish the Death Penalty

Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio legislators have introduced new bills to abolish the death penalty in their respective states and resentence those on death row to life in prison without the opportunity for parole. In Missouri, a group of Republican lawmakers has raised concerns with the state’s use of capital punishment and is advocating for its abolition. Representative Chad Perkins filed a bill in early January to abolish the death penalty, telling the press that “morally, [he feels] obligated” to support pro-life legislation. “Anyone who says they’re pro-life should feel a little conflicted on this topic – because if you’re pro-life then I think you’ve got to look at it and say you’re that way from the beginning to the very end. And I don’t think that the government should have a monopoly on violence.” In 2023, Missouri executed four individuals, including one prisoner with credible claims of innocence. Republican Representative Jim Murphy told the press that he “believe[s] the death penalty is something that we really need to examine and put to an end to because there’s just too many errors to be made and it’s just too big an error to make.” In the 2023 legislative session, Representative Tony Lovasco introduced an amendment to defund the death penalty process in Missouri, garnering more support from his Republican colleagues than his Democratic colleagues have had with similar bills in the past. Despite the bipartisan support of this amendment, however, the bill was not passed. Rep. Lovasco says he has seen increased momentum for action on capital punishment issues with his Republican colleagues. “We’re seeing, finally, willingness to have a discussion about this within the Republican Party… both behind the scenes and now finally in the public.”

In the Missouri state senate, Senator Mary Elizabeth Coleman filed legislation that would not abolish the death penalty but would repeal a state law that allows a judge to determine capital sentencing when a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision. Other than Missouri, Indiana is the only other U.S. state where a judge can impose a death sentence when a jury cannot reach a unanimous sentencing decision.

In Kentucky, Representative James Tipton introduced a bill to abolish the state’s death penalty and replace the state’s most severe punishment with life without the possibility of parole. The bill would also resentence those already on death row. Since Kentucky’s reinstatement of the death penalty in 1975, just three executions have been carried out, with the last one taking place in 2008.

Bipartisan efforts to abolish the death penalty in Ohio began in 2023 with the introduction of death penalty abolition bills in both the state House and Senate. Two of four hearings were held last year and the remaining two hearings will be scheduled in 2024. Representative Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland), a primary sponsor of the house bill, cited her pro-life beliefs in her support of this bill. Rep. Schmidt “believe[s] life begins at conception, and it ends with natural death.” For Rep. Schmidt, “the death penalty stops [natural death] because the death penalty is anything but natural.”

Efforts to Expand Use of the Death Penalty

Legislators in several states have or will introduce bills to either reinstate the death penalty or expand capital punishment eligibility. West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965, but there have been efforts in recent years to reinstate capital punishment. State Senator Mike Stuart has said he will introduce a bill meant to better protect law enforcement and first responders from violence. “Whether you drive an ambulance, whether you’re a firefighter department worker… a state trooper or a patrolman… [w]e need to make very clear in West Virginia that if you ambush law enforcement or first responders in the line of duty, the death penalty is on the table,” said Sen. Stuart. U.S. Senator from North Carolina, Thom Tillis, is calling for similar legislation at the federal level, which would permit the death penalty or life in prison without parole for the murder of local or federal law enforcement officers. In addition, West Virginia State Senate President Craig Blair announced that he intends to introduce a bill that would reinstate the death penalty for anyone who sells fentanyl that results in the death of another person.

A bill introduced by State Senator Mike Moon in the Missouri General Assembly seeks to expand death penalty eligibility tin cases of first-degree statutory rape and first-degree sex trafficking of a child. One of Sen. Moon’s colleagues, Representative Maggie Nurrenbern said while she has concerns about sex trafficking and abuse, especially pertaining to children, “the death penalty does not deter that sort of behavior.” Representative Richard Brown called Sen. Moon’s proposal “rather disturbing.”

Tennessee House Majority Leader William Lamberth filed a bill in the state legislature that would make the rape of a child under the age of twelve a death-penalty-eligible offense. “The death penalty is reserved for the worst of the very worst in our society, and there is no other crime more depraved, more sadistic or horrifying than the murder or rape of a child,” Representative Lamberth said. “Someone who preys, stalks, and hunts down children is a monster and should be punished as such. This change more adequately reflects [Tennessee’s] values when it comes to protecting children.”

Both of these bills mirror a 2023 law passed in Florida that permits the death penalty for those convicted of sexual battery of a minor under the age of twelve. All three pieces of legislation conflict with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008), which held that it is unconstitutional to sentence a person to death for a crime that did not result in death or was not intended to result in death.

Efforts to Adopt Alternative Methods of Execution

Nebraska legislators have introduced a bill that would use lethal gas as an alternative to lethal injection. State Senator Loren Lippincott and 17 co-sponsors introduced a bill to use nitrogen hypoxia, or suffocation through nitrogen gas inhalation, as a method of execution. Sen. Lippincott said that because capital punishment is on the books in Nebraska, the legislature “need[s] to make the execution of Nebraska law as humane as possible.” He claims that death by nitrogen hypoxia would be a “painless” and “very humane way” to carry out executions. Three other states — Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma — allow for the use of nitrogen gas in executions. No state has ever used nitrogen hypoxia as a method of execution, but Alabama intends to do so in a January 25th scheduled execution.


Sharryse Piggott, Thin Blue Line Act would increase penal­ty for harm­ing law enforce­ment to life in prison or death, WUNC, January 12, 2024; Clara Bates, Group of Republican law­mak­ers raise con­cerns about Missouri death penal­ty, Missouri Independent, January 10, 2024; Mark Curtis, 2 new bills call for the death penal­ty to return to West Virginia, WOWK, January 10, 2024; Erin McCullough, Tennessee law­mak­er pro­pos­es death penal­ty for rape of a child, WKRN​.com, January 8, 2024; Katie Moore, Missouri bill seeks to make rape, child sex traf­fick­ing pun­ish­able by death, The Kansas City Star, January 5, 2024; Paul Hammel, Senators pro­pose a pain­less’ alter­na­tive to car­ry out exe­cu­tions, with nitro­gen gas, Nebraska Examiner, January 4, 2024; Alex Acquisto, Ban on col­lege diver­si­ty ini­tia­tives among bills pro­posed on KY leg­is­la­ture open­ing day, Lexington Herald Leader, January 3, 2024; Natalie Fahmy, Renewed effort as Ohio Statehouse to end the death penal­ty, WCMH, September 62023.

Image cred­it: RebelAt of English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://​cre​ativecom​mons​.org/​l​i​c​e​n​s​e​s​/​b​y​-​s​a/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons