- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Maryland lawmakers struck a heavy blow to Gov. Martin O´Malley´s hopes of repealing the death penalty Tuesday by twice amending the bill he favored in such a way that capital punishment would continue but with a more limited scope.

“This is democracy in action; sometimes it´s not pretty,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George´s Democrat, a strong death-penalty supporter. Mr. Miller nonetheless employed a rare procedural move last week to bring the debate to the full Senate, even though it failed for the third time in three years in committee.

It was the first time the Senate debated a bill that was rejected by a committee in more than 30 years - ironically, the last time was about reinstating the death penalty in 1978 - and gave hope to repeal advocates who considered the Senate their biggest obstacle.

Those hopes were dashed after Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat, moved to amend the bill so that capital punishment could not be used in cases in which a verdict was reached solely on the basis of eyewitness testimony.

“The people who want repeal don´t want us to make a mistake, this will help us make sure that we don´t make a mistake,” said Mr. Brochin, a death-penalty supporter. Mr. Brochin´s amendment passed by a vote of 25-21.

Advocates of repeal said the amendment brought their efforts to naught.

“This doesn´t move the ball forward, it does nothing different from existing legislation,” said Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat.”We´re back to where we were before.”

The bill was then further amended by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat, who opted to restrict the death penalty to cases in which DNA evidence or a videotaped confession exist.

“You may not get the full repeal, but this does move the ball forward,” said Mr. Zirkin, whose amendment also passed.

The debate on the floor took place after the Senate voted Tuesday morning to reject a decision by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to give the bill an unfavorable report. The Senate then voted by a thin margin, 24-23, to allow the bill to be debated by the full 47-member Senate.

“It is not about process or procedure, it is about principle,” said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore City Democrat, who sponsored the repeal bill. “It is about the principle of being a senator and a leader of the state of Maryland.”

The bill was proposed by Mr. O´Malley, a Democrat, who made banning the death penalty a key item of his legislative agenda.

Momentum for repeal picked up this year after a state commission on capital punishment recommended in December that the practice be abolished, among other reasons because of the high cost of trials and appeals, and the danger of executing an innocent person, and the lack of a deterrent effect.

Many senators had harsh words over dismissing committee decisions at will.

Sen. David Brinkley, Frederick Republican, equated ignoring the committee decision to changing the rules of a baseball game.

“We don´t like the score at the bottom of the ninth inning, so let´s play a tenth,” said Mr. Brinkley. “We don´t like it let´s play the eleventh, that´s what this body is doing.”

Mr. Miller said that although he allowed the procedure to be used in this case, he would not do so again.

“All I know is this is the way it came to the floor 30 years ago, and this is the way it´s going to be on the floor today, and as long as I´m presiding, we are not going to do this ever again,” he said.

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