- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, scored an unlikely victory Friday when the Senate president said the full body should consider the governor’s death penalty repeal bill even though it failed in a committee.

The bill was defeated with a 5-5 vote in the 11-member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, with Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, absent. Under General Assembly rules, such a decision would normally kill the bill for at least a year. The committee has stymied similar legislation twice in the past three years.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr, Prince George´s Democrat and capital punishment supporter, said he favored debate by the full Senate.

“This is a bill of some importance, and it´s a bill where people expect their legislators to take a stand,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley - disappointed but not surprised by the committee vote - said in a statement: “Today’s action is the first step in having the repeal of the death penalty considered by the full Senate. I look forward to working with … members of the Senate in the coming days to give this issue a full vote on the Senate floor.”

Several options are still available to move the bill to the Senate floor. The most viable appears to be a rare procedural move in which the Senate replaces the committee’s “unfavorable” recommendation with a “favorable” one. Mr. Miller said that such a motion probably will be made sometime early next week.

Mr. O´Malley has made death-penalty repeal a key item for his 2009 legislative agenda, and has repeatedly pleaded with lawmakers to let the 47-member Senate consider his bill.

Last week Mr. O´Malley testified before the Judicial Proceedings Committee and on Wednesday he led a prayer breakfast and a march of clergy members and repeal supporters through the streets of Annapolis.

During committee proceedings, the bill lost favor with key swing voters after its sponsor, Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore City Democrat, moved that the bill be voted favorably without amendments.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick Republican, had offered an amendment to abolish the death penalty except in the case of a prison inmate who commits murder while incarcerated.

“Here´s a case where even if you´re in favor of the death penalty, we´ll at least have it available for a situation that I think is justified,” said Mr. Mooney, who voted against the bill after his amendment was rejected.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse, Baltimore County Democrat, said that he voted for repeal because of the chance an innocent person could be put to death.

“As long as I know we have an imperfect system, making a decision that if carried out cannot be reversed, I am not prepared to support the death penalty,” said Mr. Muse.

“This has been a heart-wrenching decision for me. To me it´s not a political issue, it´s an issue of the heart,” said Sen. Brian W. Simonaire, Anne Arundel Republican, who voted against the bill.

Death penalty opponents say that the repeal bill has enough support.

“People are ready to see this happen. If it goes to the floor, I think it will pass,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

But some see heated debate and a close vote.

“The composition [of the committee] is a microcosm of the division of opinion within the Senate itself, the body is closely divided by it,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, Montgomery County Democrat and repeal supporter. “People understand that each senator is going to vote on the issue in his or her own way.”

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