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TX Sen. Lucio Lacks Votes to Bring Up Life Without Parole Bill

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

After failed attempts at passage in previous sessions of the Texas Legislature, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) today again saw his legislation that would offer jurors the sentencing option of "life without parole" go up in smoke on the Senate floor.

But Lucio says he will not be deterred.

"I have not given up!" he said, after a vote to suspend the rules so the bill could be taken up on the Senate floor failed by a 19-12 margin. "I truly believe this is a measure that Texans want, and I'll continue to work with my colleagues to get the necessary vote to pass this bill."

In explaining his bill on the Senate floor today before the vote to suspend was cast, Lucio noted that 48 states in the United States offer life without parole as a sentencing option, adding, "And so should Texas." Lucio said the state's juries and its courts deserve this third sentencing option in capital cases.

He hailed the life without parole option as tough on crime and showing respect for jurors, while refuting claims that it would weaken the death penalty, confuse jurors and create another class of violent offenders.

Lucio noted that he strongly supports the death penalty and would never support anything that would weaken the state's ability to obtain death sentences.

However, he said the life without parole sentencing option is tough on crime and enhances the ability of the state to "permanently remove dangerous criminals off our streets." He said it also adds an option in capital cases where the death penalty is not sought. In fact, he noted, in the majority of capital cases statewide prosecutors do not seek the death penalty. Thus they have one sentencing option - life with parole eligibility after 40 years.

Life without parole would be a "tougher option," said the Brownsville Democrat, and would give prosecutors another tool for prosecuting capital cases while also aiding them in plea bargaining. He said it would "strengthen our criminal justice system and keep our neighborhoods safe."

Citing a recent Texas Poll, Lucio said 78 percent of Texans polled indicated they favor changing state law to allow the sentencing option of life without parole. He said the same poll shows support for the death penalty increases slightly with an additional sentencing option of life without parole.

Lucio said the opinion of people who served on capital juries is important to him, and that he has heard from many who wanted this sentencing option. "The ability to hand down a death sentence continues to be part of the criteria," he said, noting jurors will continue to assess death penalties because of the severity of a crime, "not because they have another sentencing option." Lucio said in addition to 47 other states having this sentencing option, it is also an option for the federal prison system, the U.S. Military and the District of Columbia. He said the state should trust juries to make the right decision, "and they feel strongly about having this option."

Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) described Lucio's bill as a "law and order bill," intended to "keep bad people off the street" because under current law, there is no way to lock someone up and be assured they will not ever get back out on the street.

"Life without parole is an issue of importance to all Texans," said Lucio after the Senate rebuked his efforts to bring the bill to a vote. "I am disappointed that we did not get enough support to hear Senate Bill 60 in the full Senate today, but that's part of the legislative process."