- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Supporters of the death penalty in Maryland say they have enough Senate votes to stop a repeal, as the General Assembly resumes hearings today on the issue.

However, the lawmakers trying to repeal the death penalty already have a court-ordered moratorium and the support of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

“With the moratorium, [death-penalty opponents] have the policy in place,” said Michael Paranzino, executive director of Throw Away the Key, a pro-death penalty group. “The plight of convicted killers is taking precedence over law-abiding Marylanders.”

The state’s highest court issued the moratorium in December, saying Maryland cannot execute prisoners until officials developed a protocol for lethal injection. The decision came just days after executions were stopped in California and Florida over concerns that lethal injections might constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Shortly after the ruling, death-penalty opponents filed proposals to repeal the law, which Mr. O’Malley said he would sign.

Mr. O’Malley said yesterday he will add his opposition to the death penalty during debates today in House and Senate committees.

Maryland governors rarely appear at bill hearings for proposals that are not their own.

“He doesn’t think that the death penalty is a deterrent or that it is cost effective and that the money could be better used to combat violent crime,” O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, supported capital punishment. He reinstituted the death penalty after taking office in 2003, refusing to uphold a moratorium by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

Death-penalty opponents say the recent, court-ordered moratorium is not enough.

“We think it is important to get the bill, to remove [capital punishment] from the books,” said Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore City Democrat and chief sponsor of House repeal bill. “We think it is important to say, ‘We will no longer tinker with the machinery of death.’ ”

State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore City Democrat, is sponsoring the Senate repeal bill.

Death-penalty supporters say they have a one-vote margin in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which is likely sufficient to kill the Senate and House bills because the committee would have to approve any House proposal.

Dick Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, will join members of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions to lobby for a complete repeal of the death penalty.

The court-ordered moratorium is a victory, “but that can change with a new governor,” he said. “It’s not a final thing.”

Another issue is a University of Maryland study released in 2003 that found those who murder a white person are twice as likely to get a death sentence than those who murder a black person.

There are six inmates on Maryland’s death row.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat, has proposed a bill to establish lethal-injection protocols, which would in effect reinstate the death penalty. Mr. Stone said he is waiting for the hearings before predicting the outcome of the legislation.

• Living wage

State lawmakers also are again considering a first-in-the-country living-wage law, which also has Mr. O’Malley’s support.

The proposals would require state contractors to pay at least $11.95 an hour to qualify for contracts more than $100,000. Baltimore and two counties already require living wages in government contracts, but Maryland would be the first state to require a statewide wage.

The General Assembly passed a similar bill three years ago, but it was vetoed by Mr. Ehrlich. Democrats did not override the veto and instead increased the minimum wage $1, to $6.15, and passed the bill into law over another Ehrlich veto.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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