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State Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, right, and state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, discuss a bill that would let citizens vote on abolishing the death penalty in Louisiana. Senate Bill 112, sponsored by state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, passed

The Louisiana Senate rejected a bill to let the public vote on whether to abolish the death penalty, dealing another blow to an ongoing effort to end capital punishment in the state.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, had implored senators to support his legislation because the death penalty has been a costly and inefficient program, and because it “cheapens life.”

While no one spoke out against the legislation on the floor of the Senate Monday, members voted it down on a 13-25 vote, well short of the two-thirds support it needed to pass.

“I was a prosecutor once upon a time. I participated in the process,” Claitor said. “I was a real believer in the death penalty. …I’ve had a conversion as we’ve gone through this process.”

Louisiana has only put three people to death in the past two decades and none since 2010, when the state executed a convicted Livingston Parish child killer who'd hastened his death by voluntarily waiving his appeals.

The state Department of Corrections in recent years has been unable to acquire the drugs needed for lethal injections, the only method of execution allowed in the state, as pharmaceutical manufacturers have refused to sell the drugs for use in executions.

Some of the death penalty's opponents, including Claitor, have cited its high cost. Public defenders alone have spent more than $100 million since 2008 on death penalty cases and a recent study put its total cost to taxpayers over that period at more than $15.6 million per year.

Claitor called the punishment inefficient as a government program and morally wrong while asking his colleagues to put its future use to a public vote. State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat who testified in support of Claitor’s bill in committee, also spoke out in support Monday, arguing the fallibility of government should make support of capital punishment untenable.

Supporters of the death penalty, including district attorneys and relatives of the victims of killers on death row, have argued it's the only just punishment for particularly heinous crimes. They've urged lawmakers to find ways to resume executions in the state.

One such proposal, sponsored by state Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, would cloak the source of the state's execution in secrecy, a step the Hammond Republican has argued would make it easier for prison officials to obtain a cocktail of deadly drugs from specialty compounding pharmacies.

State Rep. Terry Landry, a New Iberia Democrat and former State Police superintendent, has worked with Claitor for several years on legislation to abolish the death penalty, to no avail.

Landry is again bringing a bill to change Louisiana law to end the practice, a different tactic than Claitor’s constitutional amendment that put it to a vote of the people. Landry on Friday said his bill will be heard in committee next week.

The constitutional amendment proposed by Claitor would have been on ballots during next year’s presidential election.

Voting to abolish the death penalty (13): Sens. Barrow, Bishop, Boudreaux, Carter, Claitor, Colomb, Cortez, LaFleur, Mills, Morrell, Morrish, Peterson and Price.

Voting against SB12 (25): President Alario and Sens. Allain, Appel, Chabert, Donahue, Erdey, Fannin, Gatti, Hensgens, Hewitt, Johns, Lambert, Long, Martiny, Milkovich, Mizell, Peacock, Riser, G. Smith, J. Smith., Tarver, Thompson, Walsworth, Ward and White.

Not Voting (1): Sen. Luneau.

Advocate staff writer Bryn Stole contributed to this report.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.