Execution foes take heart
Anti-death penalty stance of
panel turns focus to single vote in Senate committee Maryland
By Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter
November 14, 2008
Armed with a recommendation from a state commission to abolish
With many opinions solidified on the personal and divisive issue, anti-death penalty and religious activists are focused on converting just one lawmaker on a Senate committee. Many
One potential swing vote is first-term Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, an
"I'm truly interested in seeing the facts," Simonaire said. "I'm going in with an open mind."
The renewed focus on the death penalty comes amid a number of related events.
A commission appointed by legislative leaders and Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Roman Catholic and death penalty foe, voted this week to urge an end to capital punishment in Maryland, while the administration moves forward with execution protocols that could end two years of a de-facto moratorium.
Death penalty opponents plan to be active in the districts of lawmakers who might be swayed. They are likely to enlist the likes of Sister Helen Prejean, whose story of counseling a death-row inmate became the film Dead Man Walking, and Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien. Cardinal William H. Keeler, who previously held that post, has personally reached out to Catholic lawmakers on the issue.
"We're going to make it as difficult as a possible for members to vote against the death penalty repeal," said Richard J. Dowling, a lobbyist for the
It's unclear what kind of impact the commission's final report, due next month, will have on the debate. The
O'Malley told the Associated Press yesterday that he hoped the commission's recommendation would prompt lawmakers to take "a fresh look" at the issue, though he said he doesn't know whether enough lawmakers will change their minds. The Democratic governor noted that the state is on course for a significant reduction in homicides. No one has been executed in
"I think wise people can change their mind, and I think that is a sign they are becoming wiser," he said.
Even the bill's chief sponsor acknowledges that movement during the General Assembly session that will begin in January may be unlikely. But Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a
"There's a movement afoot in the state that says consistently now the death penalty doesn't work," said Gladden, a public defender. "We're now in a position to figure out how you get it to the governor's desk."
O'Malley's administration and activist groups have tried to get a feel for vote tallies on the issue. Apart from the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where a repeal bill died on a tied vote last year, activists say they have the votes to get a bill out of the House Judiciary Committee and to win passage in the full House of Delegates.
That scenario was confirmed by House Speaker
Activists think they have the needed support, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said his chamber is "very evenly divided," and he doesn't think the commission report is likely to change anyone's thinking. Miller, who supports the death penalty and wields enormous sway over which bills get a vote in his chamber, said he doesn't plan to lobby his colleagues.
Another potential swing committee vote is Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a
Gladden said it might be necessary to bypass the committee and petition the bill directly to the Senate floor - though she distanced herself from the rare and controversial parliamentary move that would subvert the power of the leadership structure controlled by Miller.
"It's disrespectful of the process," Gladden said. "I'd have to really, really give that some thought."
Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, challenged death penalty opponents to consider "bucking leadership" with such a move. He has been considered a swing vote in the past but said yesterday that he remains steadfast in his support for the death penalty.
"We'll hold a hearing and see where it goes from there," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a
Meanwhile, it could be months before
The O'Malley administration is expected to complete protocols for lethal injections soon to comply with a court ruling that found the steps used to put a condemned prisoner to death were improperly developed. But those protocols must be approved by a separate legislative committee.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat and the administrative committee's co-chairman, said yesterday that he would likely delay a decision on the protocols until after the 90-day legislative session in case a repeal wins passage.
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs