Md. Senate president: Voters might decide whether to repeal death penalty


Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) addresses his chamber last year. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)
January 9, 2013

Maryland voters could get the final say on whether the state repeals the death penalty, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Wednesday, just hours before the General Assembly was set to convene for its annual 90-day session.

During a radio interview, Miller (D-Calvert) said repeal legislation — a long-stymied priority for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — has a good shot at passage if the governor puts the full power of his office behind it this session.

“I think if the governor uses his persuasive techniques, of which he has many, I think the bill will pass the Senate, quite frankly,” Miller said.

Miller predicted that the bill would also pass in the House and that opponents of the measure would petition it to a ballot, as happened with same-sex marriage last year.

Under that scenario, Maryland voters would decide in November 2014 whether to end capital punishment in the state or keep in on the books.

Miller’s prediction was among several made by state leaders during Wednesday morning’s taping of “The Marc Steiner Show” on WEAA FM 88.9.

O’Malley said he believes a statewide ban on assault weapons will pass the General Assembly. The measure is likely to be included in a package of legislation that the governor will propose next week in response to last month’s massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Miller also predicted that an O’Malley-backed bill to jump-start the state’s wind-power industry will pass this session. Similar legislation died in the Senate both of the past two years.

O’Malley, Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who also appeared on the program, all acknowledged a need for more transportation revenue but stopped short of forecasting whether lawmakers will find a solution this year.

O’Malley said the state could use an additional $700 million to $800 million a year to meet its road and transit needs.

He suggested several possible options for raising the revenue, including raising the state sales tax and earmarking the proceeds for transportation. But pressed by Steiner, O’Malley would not say what he plans to propose in coming weeks.

He said he agreed with much of the thrust of a plan put forward Tuesday by Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), which would eliminate the gas tax and replace it with an increase in the sales tax.

“On both sides of the Potomac, the congestion issue is the same,” O’Malley said.

Comments by the three leaders Wednesday underscored growing momentum for a death penalty repeal, which has been bottled up in a Senate committee in recent years.

Miller repeated a recent promise made to O’Malley to allow debate on the Senate floor if the governor can show he has the 24 votes needed for passage.

A count this week by The Washington Post identified 23 likely Senate votes for a repeal bill, one short of passage. But an additional four members have said they would consider supporting O’Malley-backed legislation, which is also a priority this session for the NAACP and the Catholic Church.

Advocates for repeal say support is stronger in the House, a view bolstered by a statement made Wednesday morning by Busch: “I believe it’s time to repeal the death penalty.”

Under the legislation, death sentences would be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Miller reiterated that he is personally supportive of the death penalty in some cases but said he is willing to give the issue a full airing nevertheless.

“If you’ve got a bull by the tail, you let the bull go,” Miller said.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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