- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

Accept our watered-down version of abolishing the death penalty or nothing.

“This is it,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat. “There’s not going to be any conference committees. There’s not going to be any amendments offered from the House. We’re moving forward.”

Mr. Miller’s position was not embraced by House lawmakers and will likely defeat the bill for the second time in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s first two years.

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“The House of Delegates is being told that you must do as the Senate tells you to do, and some House members don’t like being told what to do,” said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick Republican. “They’re an independent body …. Some may want to offer an amendment if they choose.”

The Senate bill allows the death penalty to be used only in cases in which DNA evidence, videotaped evidence or a videotaped confession exist - instead of a complete ban on the penalty, as submitted by Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat and a Catholic.

Mr. Miller, who supports the death penalty, said the bill is a compromise among senators. “This country was founded on compromises,” he said, despite not wanting to compromise with the House.

A final Senate vote is expected Thursday.

Advocates of repeal had scored a major victory Tuesday when the Senate, using a rare procedural move, voted 24-23 to allow debate on the bill. The bill had been rejected by a Senate committee last week.

However, the victory celebration was muted when the Senate amended the bill Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

Supporters of a full repeal were dismayed by the Senate’s compromise.

“I’ve seen this happen too many years, where the Maryland Senate just won’t deal head-on with the death penalty” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. Mr. Miller “had been undermining the governor for a while, and has not wanted this to come to the Senate floor for years.”

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, acknowledged Mr. Miller’s proposal presents problems for the House, if the bill is passed by the Senate.

“It certainly limits our options on the House side, but this is the first step in a very long road,” said spokeswoman Alex Hughes.

Miss Hughes also said the speaker will now meet with his legislative aides to discuss the House’s options.

Mr. O’Malley said he was grateful that the Senate finally had a full debate and for adopting a new burden of proof for death-penalty cases.

“While I do not think we can ever make the application of human justice perfect, the amendments passed in the Senate strengthen the standard of proof required to apply the death penalty in Maryland,” he said.

Right now, there are five men on Maryland’s death row. The state has a de facto moratorium on capital punishment as the result of a ruling by the state’s highest court in 2006.

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