Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Death Penalty Debate Mutates

The Baltimore Sun and Maryland Moment summarize the twists and turns in today's death penalty debate. But the most interesting comments come from - surprisingly - one of the state's most liberal Senators and the state's most prominent conservative blogger.

At 2:30 PM today, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) sent out this mass email:

Earlier today and with my support, the State Senate took the unusual step to reverse a committee's recommendation and voted to place the death penalty repeal bill before the entire Senate for debate and amendment. The vote was 25 to 22. A second procedural motion to open debate only passed 24 to 23. We are now in recess for committee hearings. The Senate will readjourn at 3:30pm today for debate on potential amendments. The session is anticipated to last late until the evening. I plan to oppose all amendments to weaken the repeal.

As can be seen by the small margins in the two votes from this morning, the outcome of the debate is still uncertain. However, I plan to vote to pass the bill and repeal the death penalty. The new maximum penalty in state law would be life with no chance of release. I will let you know as future developments occur.

At 6:48 PM today, Madaleno followed with this:

It is often hard to understand how quickly a bill's fortunes can change in the course of one day. Earlier today, I wrote about the success we had in moving the death penalty repeal to the Senate floor for debate. This afternoon, we took up the measure again for possible amendments. Unfortunately, on a vote of 24 to 23, the Senate adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Jim Brochin (D-Towson) that deleted the repeal and instead only prohibited the death penalty in cases where the evidence is limited to eyewitness testimony. I voted against the amendment as it essentially gutted the bill.

Recognizing that we now had a greatly watered down bill, Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Bethesda), the floor leader on the bill, accepted a second amendment offered by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Pikesville) to add a series of evidentiary requirements that a prosecutor must satisfy in order to seek the death penalty. It is believed that these new standards would eliminate 85% of the cases where the death penalty is currently sought. While there were many more amendments drafted and ready to be offered, the chamber decided to break for the evening so that these concepts could be drafted to the bill in its new form. We will reconvene tomorrow morning at 9am to start again.

Right now, we are working on strategies to revive the repeal, but it looks like this is what may pass the Senate at this point. However, the cause is not lost as the bill could be strengthened by the House of Delegates. I will write you tomorrow as new developments occur.

But while the Sun's take emphasized the role of Baltimore County Senators in beating back death penalty repeal, Red Maryland leader Brian Griffiths blamed one Republican: Senator Andy Harris (R-7). Griffiths noted that Harris missed the vote to recommit repeal back to committee, effectively keeping it alive. He wrote:

So on the most important social issue facing the General Assembly, Andy Harris of all people decides to take a pass.

I can't wait to hear the reasoning as to why Senator Harris was not present for this important vote. Because at the moment, his failure to be where he needed to be is the difference between ensuring preservation of the death penalty as a form of punishment and its elimination.
Griffiths, Maryland's leading conservative blogger, has taken on Harris before. This vote may be a useful tool for anyone running against Harris in a future Congress District 1 primary.