The Senate approved legislation that prohibits execution of persons with mental retardation, as determined by pretrial hearing.

Sponsor of the bill, State Senator Mary Jo White, R-Butler, said that a version of Senate Bill 397 has passed the Senate overwhelmingly in three prior legislative sessions, but has yet to receive final passage.

In a statement White said she has introduced the measures since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that applying the death penalty to persons with mental retardation is unconstitutional. The court left it up to states to determine how to implement the decision. "While these cases are somewhat rare, the question at the heart of them is profound," said White. "For nearly a decade, our courts have been looking to the Legislature to provide guidance. I hope that this is the session where we provide it."

Under Senate Bill 397, counsel for a defendant in a capital case can request a hearing prior to trial to determine if the defendant is not eligible for the death penalty due to mental retardation. The burden of proof would be on the defendant. If the trial judge finds for the defense, the trial would proceed as a noncapital trial.