Md. Senate votes to repeal the death penalty
In democratic-like fashion, even during a winter weather advisory with most people paying attention to the accumulation on the ground; the democratically controlled State Senate passed a repeal measure that would abolish capital punishment making Maryland the eighteenth state to have eliminated the procedure.
In an almost purely partisan vote of 27-20, with 24-votes needed for passage, the most conservative body of the Maryland General Assembly has now sent the controversial measure to the more liberal House of Delegates, for the chambers first up or down vote on the repeal of the death penalty in 35-years. With only two state republicans voting in favor of the bill, Senators Allan Kittleman and Ed Reilly of Howard and Anne Arundel Counties respectively; the democratic majority was finally able to put Governor Martin O'Malley's legislative baby to rest.
Having been a strong advocate of life without parole being a viable alternative to what he has called an expensive and broken system of justice, the second term governor seems to have pocketed another legislative priority on his journey to possibly seeking the Presidency in 2016. After obvious fatigue from trying to get a repeal measure passed in Maryland since he took office in 2007, Governor O'Malley was a little leery about bringing the measure back to the statehouse this year, after his bill was amended in 2009 to tighten the restrictions on prosecutors when applying for the death penalty.
However, the NAACP – led by President and CEO Benjamin Jealous – made a valiant push for the repeal measure after making a promise to get the death penalty repealed nationally after the state execution of Troy Davis in Georgia at 11:08P on September 21, 2011. Davis, who was convicted of murdering a Savannah police officer 22-years prior, had proclaimed his innocence all the way through to his last breath, and became an international symbol against the death penalty and the racial inequalities that surround the system.
Determined to abolish the death penalty state-by-state until there was no other choice but to have a national policy banning state executions, Jealous and the NAACP marched on Annapolis right before session began in January to conger up the necessary votes needed to eliminate the system in Maryland once and for all. Repeal advocates had consistently been denied ever getting the bill out of the Senate's Judicial Proceedings committee, which held a 6-5 majority of death penalty advocates – both Republicans and conservative Democrats alike.
“It's an awesome day,” says former death row inmate Kirk Bloodsworth, who was the first American exonerated of his crime through DNA evidence. A former Marine and Maryland resident, Bloodsworth was falsely convicted of sexual assault, rape and first-degree premeditated murder of a nine-year old in 1985.
Eventually cleared of all charges in 1994, after serving nine years in prison, two of which were spent on death row; the 52-year Bloodsworth has been an outspoken advocate for repeal. “28 years ago I was sitting in a court room waiting for what was to be a conviction and sentence of death; and today, the death penalty is the one being sentenced to die in Maryland! We're one step closer to never executing another innocent person,” says Bloodsworth, the advocacy director for Witness to Innocence.
However this year Senate President Thomas 'Mike' Miller, a proponent of capital punishment, offered his 'suggestion' that while he opposed repeal efforts, that he foresaw the bill finally coming out of committee and making it to the full senate floor – where advocates believed they had the votes necessary for passage. And that whip count was accurate, as the bill passed earlier today with three votes to spare, now sending the measure over to the 141-members of the House who are set to hear testimony on the measure next week.
And while advocates are excited to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, assuredly receiving the Governor's signature on the bill if the House passes it; opponents of the measure, including Miller, have begun speculating that the unpopular measure would almost certainly go to the ballot next fall through a citizen petition reform measure utilized successfully three times in the past two years by state Republicans.
Having petitioned liberal policies passed by the Maryland General Assembly and backed by the left-leaning Governor, such as Gay Marriage, the Md. DREAM Act and a clearly gerrymandered congressional redistricting map in 2011 and 2012; state conservatives are almost assuredly poised to bring the death penalty repeal measure to the voters of Maryland – where executions remain favorable.
Delegate Neil Parrott, a Washington County freshman legislator who founded the online petition effort known as MDPetitions.com that helped garner the necessary signatures to place each of the three policies on the ballot, is said to be considering a possible challenge to the law? However, while the Senate President says he expects the law to be sent to referendum, him and his democratic colleagues are currently attempting to tighten the restrictions on a process that has been in place for almost a hundred years.
"The Senate President could have made the death penalty repeal bill go directly to the voters if he really wanted it to, all he had to do was make the bill a constitutional amendment and it would have gone to the voters next fall; but also would have needed 3/5 majority to pass - and he knew the votes weren't there for that!" ~ Delegate Neil Parrott
The petition process, which allows citizens to petition to ballot any law – excluding budgetary and alcohol related bills – passed by the Maryland General Assembly; giving a limited and specified date to turn in a specified number of registered voter signatures. The number is determined by a % of the total number of voters pursuant to the last Gubernatorial election, which was set at roughly 58,736 signatures for the last effort; yet, the Governor and his democratic colleagues, upset that the minority party in Maryland dare challenge their efforts, are determined to strengthen a process that is already governed by one of strictest set of rules in the country.
And while groups such as Amnesty International have already sent out lobbying letters to their constituents, asking them to send pre-written emails to state delegates in Maryland supporting the repeal effort because it is “an expensive distraction from more effective policies that actually do prevent crime and support the real needs of victims' families”; opponents of the repeal effort point to the fiscal note that comes along with the repeal bill.
“Some argue that they were voting to repeal the death penalty because of the cost factor in housing these death row inmates, their appeals, etc...; however, they stuck a $500,000 mandate in the bill to go to the State Victims' of Crime Fund each year,” questions independent political analyst Shaun Louis. “How bassackwards is that? We are raising people's gas taxes to fund victim rights groups, and then crying broke? Only in Maryland?”
The House measure, HB0295, was introduced with 67 co-sponsors – four short of the 71-votes needed for passage in those chambers; so the likelihood of the bill coming out of the House chambers is likely to be fast tracked. Stay tuned for more on the final outcome of this measure, and the possible petition referendum to follow...
SB0276 Third Reader Vote:
Yea – Democrats: John Astle, AA County; Joanne Benson, PG County, Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore City; Ulysses Curry, PG County; James DeGrange, AA County; Bill Ferguson, Baltimore City; Jennie Forehand, MoCo; Brian Frosh, MoCo; Lisa Gladden, Baltimore City; Verna Jones-Rodwell, Baltimore City; Delores Kelley, Baltimore Co; Nancy King, MoCo; Richard Madaleno, MoCo; Roger Manno, MoCo; Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore City; Karen Montgomery, MoCo; C. Anthony Muse, PG County; Douglass Peters,PG County; Paul Pinsky, PG County; Catherine Pugh, Baltimore City; Victor Ramirez, PG County; Jamie Raskin, MoCo; James Rosapepe, PG County; Ron Young, Frederick Co; Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County; Republicans: Allan Kittleman, Howard County; Ed Reilly, AA County
Ney: Democrats: James Brochin, Baltimore Co; Roy Dyson, St. Mary's Co; Rob Garagiola, MoCo; Ed Kasemeyer, Baltimore Co; Kathy Klausmeier, Baltimore Co; James 'Jim' Mathias, Worcester Co; Thomas 'Mac' Middleton, Charles Co; Thomas 'Mike' Miller, Calvert Co; James 'Jim' Robey, Howard Co; Norman Stone, Baltimore Co; Republicans: David Brinkley, Frederick Co; Richard Colburn, Dorchester Co; George Edwards, Garrett Co; Joseph Getty, Carroll Co; Barry Glassman, Harford Co; Nancy Jacobs, Harford Co; J.B. Jennings, Harford Co; E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Co; Christopher Shank, Washington Co; Bryan Simonaire, AA County
For more information on this article email me here, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, Join my LinkedIn network, get instant news updates from the DMVDaily FB or Twitter pages or browse the political/communications consulting services provided by GCOMM Media Co.