Sen. Brad Zaun

A bill to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa for kidnapping, raping and murdering a person under the age of 18 has cleared one hurdle in the Iowa Senate, but it faces key opposition in the Iowa House.

Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, said with new members making up about a third of the legislature this year, he’s making another try. “I know we haven’t been successful before,” Zaun told reporters, “but I do plan on running it through Judiciary. This is very narrowly written.”

Zaun is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican Representative Steven Holt of Denison is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Holt told reporters he could support the death penalty on “moral grounds,” but he said there are too many practical problems with it. Getting the drugs for a lethal injection has become increasingly difficult and Holt said there are people who’ve been sentenced to death who have later been exonerated. “It’s just extremely expensive to keep someone on death row,” Holt said. “…Unlike in a lot of other states, life in prison is life in prison in Iowa.”

During a Senate subcommittee hearing yesterday, a representative of the state’s four Catholic bishops spoke out against the death penalty. Reverend Heather Wachendorf of New Beginnings Christian Church in Urbandale was among three pastors who testified. “When the punishment is the same as the crime, we should stop and question the law,” she said. “Taking another person’s life is never OK.”

Terry Pierce of West Des Moines was the only member of the public at yesterday’s hearing who spoke in favor of the limited form of capital punishment outlined in the bill. “We’re talking about an adult committing a crime against an innocent child,” he said. “In my mind, the penalty couldn’t be harsh enough.”

Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965. In 1995, the Iowa House narrowly voted to reinstate capital punishment, but the bill was defeated in the Senate.