[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----MARYLAND
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Nov 28 13:44:17 CST 2008
Simonaire entering session with open mind on death penalty
An Anne Arundel County state senator who sits on the committee that could
decide the fate of the death penalty this session is pledging to keep an
open mind when debate starts anew in January.
State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, who voted against a bill in 2007
to repeal the death penalty as a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings
Committee, said he is going to carefully examine the recommendations from
the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment.
The 23-member commission recently voted to recommend abolishing the death
penalty, although its decision was not unanimous. A majority and minority
report is scheduled to be issued to the General Assembly by Dec. 15 and
the 2009 session begins on Jan. 14.
"This is not an easy decision for me," Mr. Simonaire said. "I want to take
it very carefully."
Like other social issues - gay marriage, immigration - death penalty
legislation has been stalemated during Gov. Martin O'Malley's tenure.
In 2007, Mr. O'Malley took the rare step of testifying on behalf of a
death penalty ban even though it was not part of his legislative agenda.
His words did not sway the Judicial Proceedings Committee, however, which
killed the proposal by one vote.
A de facto moratorium on executions has been in effect because of legal
challenges and the governor's willingness to wait and see if the
legislature decided differently. Now, new regulations to reboot the death
penalty are in the final stages of review at the state Department of
Public Safety and Correctional Services, even though Mr. O'Malley is
holding out hope things will change.
"The governor's been very clear that if a repeal is put on his desk he
will sign it," said Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for Mr. O'Malley. "It is the
governor's hope that (the commission's report) serves as a new impetus to
take a second look."
Capital punishment opponents are gearing up to turn lawmakers to their
side, armed with the commission's recommendations and facts about the
death penalty's racial and geographic disparities.
"We are going to continue to mobilize people around the state," said Jane
Henderson, the executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State
Executions. "I'm optimistic that this opens up a new conversation."
Although some legislators are probably intransigent on the issue, some
death penalty supporters, such as Mr. Simonaire, voted to create the
commission, Ms. Henderson said.
"They are going to give at least careful consideration to what the report
says," she said. "Opposition (to a repeal) is increasingly becoming an
ideological opposition There are really strong, pragmatic reasons why the
death penalty should go."
But Mr. Simonaire faces the same conundrum as several of his colleagues: a
belief capital punishment should be used for perpetrators of the most
detestable crimes colliding with imperfections in the system, from the
potential of killing innocent people, to the voluminous amounts of time
and money poured into each execution that can prevent it from actually
healing the families of crime victims.
"The problem is, the system isn't perfect," Mr. Simonaire said. "Is it
flawed enough to actually repeal it?"
The road to change will be difficult, however.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, is a death penalty
supporter and in charge of appointing members to standing committees such
as Judicial Proceedings.
That committee is one of the most socially conservative legislative groups
in the General Assembly. Although some members, such as the chairman, Sen.
Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, and the vice-chairman, Sen. Lisa Gladden,
D-Baltimore City, fit into a more progressive Democratic mold, their
influence is offset by more moderate legislators such as Sen. Jim Brochin
and Sen. Norman Stone, both D-Baltimore County.
Out of the 4 major standing legislative committees in the Senate, Judicial
Proceedings also has largest ratio of Republicans, with 4 of its 11 voting
members part of the minority party.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, acknowledged after the
commission's vote this month that his chamber could likely pass a death
penalty repeal if the Senate moves forward.
Mr. Busch has been a supporter of capital punishment but is concerned
about it being applied unequally in different jurisdictions across
"The death penalty is not an issue that legislators can be influenced on -
it is a vote of a legislator's conscience," Mr. Busch said in a prepared
statement. "If a bill moves favorably out of the Senate, I believe there
are likely a majority of 71 votes in the House in support of a repeal."
But the issue might not be decided that simply. One possible compromise
floating around is keeping the death penalty for criminals who kill
correctional officers, Mr. Simonaire said. That could pacify some of the
past worries of repeal opponents, who question whether removing such a
final punishment would give violent prisoners a "nothing to lose"
"I don't think it is a simple 'yes or no' vote," Mr. Simonaire said.
(source: Hometown Annapolis)
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