Committee chairman predicts death penalty repeal will advance to Md. Senate floor
By John Wagner,
A bill to repeal Maryland’s death penalty is likely to clear a key Senate committee on Thursday night after an amendment is adopted that deletes a $500,000 appropriation to help crime victims, the panel’s chairman said.
The bill, a priority of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), has stalled in recent years in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. But it picked up a new supporter on Wednesday night, when Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) told The Washington Post that he plans to vote for the bill.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), the committee’s chairman, told reporters Thursday morning that with Zirkin’s support, “I hope and believe” the repeal bill will advance to the Senate floor.
Frosh’s committee is scheduled to consider both the repeal bill and O’Malley’s gun control bill in an evening voting session that could last several hours because of a large number of proposed amendments.
As of now, the repeal bill directs the governor to make an annual $500,000 appropriation to the State Victims of Crime Fund. The money is intended to reflect part of the cost savings that O’Malley says will result from abolishing the death penalty.
The provision has proved controversial, however, because opponents of the execution repeal hope to petition the bill to the ballot if the General Assembly passes it. Under the state Constitution, bills that include appropriations are not eligible for a public vote.
An advisory letter circulated by state lawyers earlier this month reasoned that it is “more likely than not” that a court would allow a petition effort to go forward because the appropriation is not central to the repeal bill. But Frosh said the provision is likely to be severed from the bill Thursday night out of caution.
He said that O’Malley has pledged to boost funding for crime victims regardless.
“We can get it done,” Frosh said. “We don’t need it in the bill.”
With Zirkin’s support, there are now 26 senators who are either co-sponsoring the legislation or have pledged to support it. The bill needs 24 votes to pass the Senate.
Repeal advocates believe their prospects are very good in the House of Delegates.
Maryland would become the 18th state to abolish the death penalty. If a repeal bill passes and is petitioned to the ballot, Maryland voters would have the final say on the matter in November 2014.