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Legislators favor building new execution chamber in Ely

CARSON CITY — Members of the Legislature’s two money committees on Wednesday narrowly approved $858,000 to build a new execution chamber at Nevada’s maximum security prison at Ely as requested by the Department of Corrections.

The proposal failed Monday in a subcommittee review when a majority of the Assembly Ways and Means members were opposed.

But the full Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees voted to go forward with the project.

The Assembly vote was 8-7 in favor of funding the project. There was no comment before the vote.

The committees also approved nearly $50 million in funding for a new UNLV Hotel College academic building and almost $23 million for a new DMV service office at the East Sahara Avenue location in Las Vegas.

Also approved was a new 96-bed veterans nursing home in Reno at a cost of $48 million.

State funding totals $42 million for the eight major projects, with other funding totaling nearly $92 million.

The only real point of contention was the execution chamber, which was rejected by lawmakers in 2013.

The Ely State Prison execution chamber would replace the facility at the now closed Nevada State Prison in Carson City. The state’s death row population is housed at Ely.

Nevada uses lethal injection as the method of execution, which is an issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Corrections Department Director Greg Cox said at a recent hearing that no executions are pending for the approximately 80 men on death row, but that the status could change and would require the state to act within 60 and 90 days.

The existing execution chamber, a former gas chamber on the third floor of the closed state prison, could be used but would likely prompt litigation from death row opponents, he said.

The new execution chamber and related facilities would take up 1,900 square feet of the current administration wing at the Ely State Prison.

In the subcommittee meeting on Monday, Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Reno, said that with no executions pending, lawmakers should not fund the project this session.

But Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, disagreed, saying the project is needed because the current chamber is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The last execution, by lethal injection, occurred at the Nevada State Prison on April 26, 2006, when Daryl Mack was put to death. Mack was executed for the rape and murder of a Reno woman, Betty Jane May, in 1988.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801

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