House marathon leads Death Penalty Repeal bill one step closer to law
If you had a 1P bill hearing in the House of Delegates yesterday, like I did, you better have packed a lunch and canceled any other appointments you may have had scheduled for later in the day. The reason, members of the House were kept on the floor debating the repeal of Maryland's Death Penalty for 4 ½ hours – and that was just the morning session.
The legislation that withstood numerous amendments aimed at keeping the process of state executions for some of the most extreme circumstances, as sponsors of the bill effectively whipped up the votes needed to kill each individual attempt, passed through second reader last night and got one step closer to final passage.
The NAACP backed bill would make the 'Free State' the eighteenth state in the country to abolish capital punishment. However, as its chances look almost guaranteed to pass during this session, its final outcome is less certain, as conservative reform advocates look to petition the bill to the ballot in 2014?
“You think Gay Marriage and the DREAM Act were momentum changers for a conservative electorate, wait until they pass the repeal of a measure that is still very favorable amongst Maryland residents, including Democrats in some of the most liberal jurisdictions,” says independent political analyst, Shaun Louis.
“Why do you think Democrats are trying to 'suppress the vote' with this disingenuously named 'Referendum Integrity Act'? They know that the electorate would easily gather the current 57,000 or so signatures to get the measure on the ballot, and they hate for anyone to challenge their authority; even though the pro-death penalty Senate President [Thomas 'Mike' Miller] publicly anticipates and wants the measure to be defeated at the polls?”
And while the state's minority party GOP were the ones introducing the majority of the amendments to keep the measure in Maryland as a prosecutorial tool for the worst of the worst, Democrats refused to acknowledge how the state would punish lifers who continue to kill while incarcerated? “How do you justify allowing someone who obviously has no remorse for another person's life to remain imprisoned and allowed to kill again and again with no regard for consequences that will no longer exist if this bill passes,” asks Louis.
And the House Minority Leader Anthony O'Donnell also questioned such disregard for the lives of others who could be subject to such heinous killers during incarceration. The Calvert County Delegate spoke with me at length about trying to continue the effort of having ways to ensure that those who have no remorse for other people's lives, are able to face the ultimate punishment – death.
“I do believe the death penalty should be used sparingly, but it is an effective tool for prosecutors in ensuring the safety of not only our correctional officers who essentially put their lives on the line every day when they report to work; but also to protect other prisoners who will be subject to those individuals who would face absolutely no consequences if we abolish the death penalty all together.”
The father of three, and a rare full time delegate who is in his fifth term representing Maryland's 29th district, O'Donnell also believes that the racial disparity in applying the death penalty should be fixed first before moving forward with a tool with such finality like capital punishment. “We need to ensure that no innocent person is ever convicted to die and make sure that any racial disparities in the application of the process should be worked out; however, if you completely abolish the death penalty, we essentially hamper our elected officials' abilities to effectively prosecute heinous crimes?”
And the minority leader didn't stop their in his advocacy for minorities across the state. Quite a few of even the most conservative Republican members in both chambers have communicated their support for equity funding of Maryland's four Historically Black Colleges and Universities; as well as Baltimore City's new school building construction plan which would guarantee upwards of $32 million a year from the state for ten years, to allow city officials to borrow against the guaranteed capital to secure bonds of approximately $1.2 billion to rebuild old, decaying and dilapidated learning facilities.
“We have been working closely with Black Caucus Chairwoman Aisha Braveboy, in trying to support some of the important pieces of legislation they have coming before the General Assembly,” says O'Donnell. And when you look at it, they are both essentially the 'minority' in Annapolis; however, when you combine the two memberships, they can effectively block or pass almost any piece of legislation in the House, and are three votes shy of doing just that in the Senate?
In fact, party members have communicated to me their support of many issues facing the black communities in Maryland, and have expressed interest in publicly endorsing educational issues supported by the black caucus and the Baltimore City Delegation.
Both of the measures mentioned previously are hot button issues in Annapolis this session, neither of which has yet to get the endorsement of the Democratic Governor, Martin O'Malley. Yet, despite not having the public support of the former Baltimore Mayor and Democratic Party leader, it apparently has strong support amongst minority members in both chambers.
“We are 100% in support of the Maryland Black Caucus' efforts to level the financial playing field of Maryland's institutions of higher learning, and believe that the innovative plan put forth by city officials should be given a chance to work, in order to allow every child in Maryland the opportunity to learn in a healthy environment,” says one conservative House member who is not authorized to speak on behalf of the caucus but believes that they will come out publicly soon regarding both bills.
“Question is, where is their state democratic leader on these issues? Why hasn't Baltimore City's former mayor and now Maryland Governor, Martin O'Malley, came out publicly for either of these common sense bills? It makes you wonder? But we're supportive regardless and believe it can, and should, get done this session; and when he's ready to come around to ensuring fairness for the education of all children, we'll be waiting with open arms?”
The Death Penalty Repeal bill is set to go to third reader today in the House, and has already passed through the Senate last week; therefore, if it gets the nod on the floor of the House – which is almost certain – it should then go to the Governor's desk for his guaranteed immediate signature – as long as it doesn't differ from the Senate's version, then it would go to a joint conference committee. Yet, while the Governor sings the praises of the repeal efforts possible passage this year, it should be noted that he wasn't an initial backer of the legislation.
In fact, when NAACP President and CEO, Benjamin Jealous, brought this repeal effort to the Governor late last year, the second term chief executive left it up to the advocacy group to whip up the votes needed for passage in both chambers before he would even consider pushing for it? The Irishman, who put his political force behind efforts to legalize Gay Marriage for the LGBT community, and twisted arms to get a DREAM Act bill passed for the Latino community; would not do the same for the African American community when they made their ask.
Which begs the question, should the Black Caucus be so willing to bend over backwards to support his legislative package, such as wind energy and a possible gas tax; both of which will put an added financial burden on the already fiscally-strapped constituency of these black legislators?
Maybe it's time the 43-members of the black caucus began to caucus with the fiscally conservative 55-members of the Republican Party in Maryland; and stop being taken for granted by a Governor who has shown his true colors time and time again, ignoring the pleas of our community and bowing to the wishes of others? Like my spiritual advisor use to always tell me...”A man with only one option, has NO options!”
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