The Washington Post

Decision on death penalty petition drive could come by the end of the week

Anti-death penalty advocates celebrate passage of a bill abolishing capital punishment that passed in March. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The group that led efforts to petition three measures to Maryland’s ballot last fall could announce a decision by the end of the week on whether it will launch a drive to overturn legislation repealing the death penalty.

Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), chairman of, said in an interview that the death penalty repeal is one of two remaining measures his organization might target from the recently concluded legislative session. The other affects unionization of teachers.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who championed the death penalty repeal bill, plans to sign it into law Thursday. Under the new law, the harshest criminal penalty available in Maryland would be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Parrott would not tip his hand on whether his group will move forward with a petition drive, but he noted that polls have shown that majorities of Marylanders want to retain the death penalty and that California voters last year rejected a ballot initiative to abolish capital punishment in that state.

Earlier this month, announced it would not attempt to petition O’Malley’s gun-control bill to the ballot, arguing that a court challenge was a better way to halt the measure from taking effect. But another group, billing itself as Free State Petitions, has started a petition effort.

Elections officials say has been given the go-ahead on petition language that groups are asked to submit in advance of a drive. The advance submission is not required, but groups risk having their entire effort invalidated without that step.

The deadline for such submissions is Wednesday. Parrott’s group has not been given approval for petition language dealing with the teacher union bill.

In a Washington Post poll published in February, 60 percent of adults said that Maryland law should allow for the death penalty, while 36 percent supported replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Parrott said one consideration in whether to move forward with a petition drive on the death penalty will be whether there is the potential for a sustained campaign on the issue next year. The measure would appear on the ballot in November 2014, if 55,736 signatures are collected by the end of June.

Two of the measures that Parrott’s group successfully petitioned to last year’s ballot — laws to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants under certain circumstances and to redraw the state’s congressional map — generated little campaign activity by opponents prior to November.

Voters upheld those two laws, along with another allowing same-sex marriage.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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