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State Lawmakers to Review Death Penalty, Governor's Role in Halting Executions

As a legal challenge to Governor Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty advances, state lawmakers are planning their own review of the capital sentencing system.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the governor can issue reprieves in each death penalty case, effectively imposing a moratorium on state executions.

Wolf cited concerns over the costs and flaws of the capital sentencing system.

But opponents of the move, like GOP state Representative Mike Vereb of Montgomery County, said the governor can’t unilaterally halt the death penalty, bypassing the legislative process.    

“I envision it’s going to be a bit of a constitutional showdown in the sense of branches of government, and who has what authorities,” said Vereb.

Vereb said he’d like the governor to reverse the moratorium.

“If they don’t want it, put a statute up, put a proposal up, and let’s vote it,” he said “And then the majority of the house and senate can send the bill to the governor, but I don’t see that happening, but that is certainly the out. I mean, the option always is, to correct a law, isn’t to park it, but to rewrite another proposal and get it sent through the General Assembly.

A House committee is planning hearings on the death penalty at the end of the month. The testimony will follow numerous studies, and the work of another panel still examining the system. Wolf said his moratorium would last at least until that panel issues its recommendations.