- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The death penalty in Maryland has perhaps the strongest chance in recent years of being repealed, as lawmakers in favor of capital punishment - including two Republicans - say they may allow all 47 Senate members to vote on the legislation.

“We’ve been dealing with this issue for years and years. I think it may be time that it comes to the floor,” said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, Ann Arundel Republican and member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which has stalled the bill in recent years.

During that time, the committee has not given the legislation a favorable recommendation, typically a prerequisite for a full Senate vote.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, appealed to the General Assembly last week to allow a vote on the issue.

“Decent people can disagree on this issue, but as your governor, I ask that you give this important moral question of repeal of the death penalty a fair up-or-down vote in both houses of this legislature,” he said.

The last repeal bill died in committee in 2007 on a 5-5 vote and was not considered for a vote last year.

Since the General Assembly reinstated the death penalty in 1978, five people have been executed, and five more are now on death row. A de facto moratorium on executions has been in place since 2006, when the state’s highest court ruled that lethal-injection protocols were not properly followed.

“I’m hoping the governor’s speech will create momentum,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, the committee chairman, who supports a repeal.

Mr. Frosh, a Montgomery Democrat, said a favorable vote in the committee is “obviously my first choice.”

A hearing on the legislation has been scheduled for later this month.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Frederick Republican on the committee, has said that he would “probably support” moving the bill from the committee without voting on its merits.

Mr. Mooney’s decision may be the weight repeal advocates need, as he was the swing vote that prevented the bill from moving out of committee in 2007. Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore Democrat and death-penalty supporter, also has come out in support of the move.

Mr. Simonaire said he will support the move only if another bill deadlocked in the committee, the Maryland Defense of Marriage Act, is treated the same way.

“These issues are in the exact same situation, so we should treat these issues the same way,” he said.

Death penalty opponents say there are enough votes to pass a repeal if a vote goes to the Senate floor.

“There is a lot of pressure from the public to get something done. Marylanders are ready for this, and the issue deserves a full debate,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

A recent opinion poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies showed 53 percent of Marylanders support the death penalty, while 41 percent oppose it. The latter figure is up eight percentage points since 2001.

Last summer, former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti led a special commission to address the pros and cons of the death penalty and its application in Maryland. In December, the commission recommended that the death penalty be abolished, citing its cost to maintain and the threat of mistakenly executing an innocent person.

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