Iowa legislators spent much of last week reacting to the kidnapping, molestation and death of a 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl, a crime allegedly committed by a convicted sex offender. Some lawmakers say it’s a crime that shows it’s time to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa, but Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says he will not allow a debate on the issue. “Let me be very clear on this. We will not debate the death penalty in the Iowa Senate this year,” Gronstal says. He vows to use his power to defer action on any bill that would restore capital punishment in the state. Gronstal says there aren’t enough votes in the Iowa Senate to pass a bill that would allow the option of executing certain criminals. “We are not going to pursue an issue that we know is dead,” Gronstal says of the death penalty. “We’re going to try and spend our time on constructive ways to keep us safer in the state of Iowa.” Gronstal accused some senators of “grandstanding” on the issue, a reference to Senator Larry McKibben, a Republican from Marshalltown, who placed large pictures of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage and the man accused of killing her near his Senate desk as he spoke on the issue last Thursday. Despite Gronstal’s vow to derail any death penalty bill, Republican leaders in the Senate say they’ll push for a vote on the death penalty, perhaps sometime this week. The issue has failed to pass the Senate on several occasions in the past decade, and it’s unclear whether this year will be any different, especially with eight new senators in the mix who’ve never had to cast a vote on the issue. One of those freshmen is Senator Dave Mulder, a Republican from Sioux Center. “I’m diabolically opposed to abortion. I don’t believe in euthanasia, and then can I all of a sudden accept putting somebody to death on the other end of life?” Mulder says. “Yes, I know in Genesis 9-6 (chapter nine, verse six) it says ‘If by man, a man’s life is taken, by man his life must be taken,’ but then Jesus also said, you know, we’re supposed to forgive…Jesus never talked about taking someone’s life so I really struggle with it.” Mulder says there are lots of different angles to consider, but he’s leaning against restoring the death penalty in Iowa. “With the way capital punishment is in America, with that long length of time between when they are actually put to death and the inconsistency of it, I’m not for it,” Mulder says. In 1965, Iowa legislators voted to abolish capital punishment in Iowa. Until then, the death penalty in Iowa meant death by hanging.
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