- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 8, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | The state Senate last week thwarted the death-penalty repeal championed by Gov. Martin O’Malley after a contentious two-day debate, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s Democrat and capital-punishment supporter, downplayed any apparent victory.

“The way the bill came out, I think everybody gets to declare a win,” Mr. Miller said following Thursday’s Senate approval of a bill that restricted death-penalty usage, falling far short of the full repeal sought by Mr. O’Malley, also a Democrat.

The powerful pair worked together to foster debate on the death penalty despite having opposing viewpoints on the divisive issue.

But Mr. Miller took subtle jabs at Mr. O’Malley throughout the week, questioning the governor’s efforts to promote the repeal and his decision to claim victory after a compromise was reached.

“The word needs to go forth to the governor,” Mr. Miller said Wednesday. “He’s declaring victory this morning. We’re not going to deprive him of his victory, if he can call it a victory.”

By the end of the week, however, the two seemed to be on the same page.

It’s not the first time they have bickered since the legislative session opened.

In January, Mr. Miller said he “took the governor to task” about his proposal to lay off 700 state employees. Mr. O’Malley also opposed Mr. Miller’s push to require counties to pay at least some of the costs for teacher pensions.

Both issues are expected to be made moot by incoming federal stimulus money.

The two have also sparred over the troubled slots-bidding process, with Mr. O’Malley repeatedly preaching patience and Mr. Miller initially calling for a potential do-over before softening his stance.

Mr. Miller did grant the governor a legislative favor, facilitating the death-penalty debate by allowing a rarely-used procedural measure despite personally voting against it and receiving criticism from some senators for deviating from the Senate’s normal custom.

Mr. O’Malley thanked the Senate president for allowing the debate in a news conference Tuesday when it became clear the bill would not include a full repeal.

“I am appreciative of the fact that President Miller and other members of the Senate leadership have allowed this debate to take place,” Mr. O’Malley said.

The bill, now in the House, is what lawmakers are calling a “compromise.”

Senators approved amendments stipulating capital-punishment charges can only be brought in cases with biological or DNA evidence, video evidence linking defendants to the crime or a videotaped voluntary confession. In so doing, they rejected the proposal for a full repeal.

Mr. O’Malley declared at least a partial victory.

“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 Wednesday.

How much the failure to achieve a full repeal will cost Mr. O’Malley politically is uncertain.

He threw his full weight behind the fight for repeal, talking individually to senators, leading a rally of religious leaders and sending an estimated 60,000 e-mails to residents, urging them to contact their state senators on behalf of repeal.

But Mr. Miller vehemently denied a suggestion that Mr. O’Malley squandered any political capital by not getting a full repeal from the Senate.

“No, no, no,” Mr. Miller said Thursday. “He was elected by the people with a fairly substantial margin. I think he’s going to be re-elected overwhelmingly.”

• Capital News Service Staff Writers Michael Frost and Erika Woodward contributed to this report.


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