The conservatives who dominate the Utah Legislature are coming to realize — on their own, which is the only way to truly grasp an idea — that there is nothing conservative about capital punishment.
For one thing, the necessary safeguards and appeals that should always go along with the ultimate punishment are quite costly in terms of money, time and emotions.
But, more important, handing the state the power to end any human being’s life is not compatible with the idea that the government that governs best is the government that governs least.
It has long been hard to understand that the same people who are often the most likely to object to the government’s claim that it can competently educate children, inspect automobiles or protect public lands are often comfortable with the idea that that same government is so infallible as to be empowered to put people to death.
Capital punishment is sought, and carried out, seldom enough in Utah that there is not the concern raised in other states — death penalty factories such as Texas and Florida — that innocent people have been executed here. But that possibility will always exist.
The death penalty is increasingly seen as a relic of a more barbaric time. Nearly every nation we would consider civilized and, now, 19 other states have done away with it. None of them has been burdened with an increase in violent crime as a result.
The Legislature came close to doing away with the death penalty two years ago. A bill to do so passed the Senate but did not get a vote in the House before the 45-day session hit its mandatory end.
Now, the Legislature has before it House Bill 379, sponsored by Huntsville Republican Rep. Gage Froerer. It would allow the execution of the nine people already sentenced to die under current law, and allow capital cases to be filed up to May 8. After that, the death penalty would no longer be an option in Utah.
That bill should pass.
Putting a human being to death is, unavoidably, a gruesome and degrading affair that harms the decent public servants who are tasked with carrying it out, reopens the wounds of those whose loved ones were killed and creates a barbarically ugly circus atmosphere that a good conservative state like Utah should seek to avoid.
There is no reason to believe that it has a significant deterrent effect or that it in any way makes life in our communities any safer.
A life sentence without parole — but always with the possibility of a pardon if new evidence comes to light — is the proper penalty for murder. That is the step the Legislature should take.