Thursday, January 3, 2013

Senate President Promises Vote on MD Death Penalty & Repeal May Turn On 1 Vote // WHIP-COUNT OF MOCO SENATORS

As Maryland's legislature gets back into gear for 2013, death penalty abolition is moving back into the spotlight. Below we provide a quick status update on the repeal effort, which seems to have gained new steam after high-profile wins for the Dream Act and marriage equality revealed a deeply progressive electorate in Maryland. A few weeks ago Governor Martin O'Malley hinted he might consider making another attempt to get the death penalty off the books in Maryland, and now members of the state's liberal advocacy community are gearing up for a push. Meanwhile, the NAACP has pledged to make abolition in Maryland their top priority this year, promising to open a dialogue that could shine the spotlight on numerous other racial disparities and embarrassingly ineffective policies embedded in our criminal justice system.

JUICE #1: SENATE PRESIDENT MIKE MILLER PROMISES DEATH PENALTY FLOOR VOTE IF A REPEAL BILL CAN PASS - Those who find the idea of murder by the government to be disgraceful are busy firming up votes to end the death penalty in The Free State. The reason for the sudden surge of activity is that The Baltimore Sun reported last night that Senate President Mike Miller pledged to find a way to bring the death penalty for a floor vote if the bill had enough support to pass (excerpt below):
BALTIMORE SUN: "If [Gov. O'Malley] shows me the votes, if he's got the votes on the floor of the Senate, then we'll find a way to move it forward," Miller said in an interview.....

Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, welcomed Miller's statement. She said death penalty opponents have had enough votes in the full Senate for repeal since the 2010 elections....

Speaker Michael E. Busch has said the House, which has not voted on full repeal in recent years, will take up the issue only if the Senate acts....

JUICE #2: DEATH PENALTY REPEAL WILL BE A CLOSE VOTE  //  HERE'S HOW MOCO SENATORS PLAN TO VOTE - Though sources following the issue are optimistic that there is now enough support to repeal the death penalty in Maryland, some are still indicating that the current whip count looks very close on the issue. At least one knowledgeable source thinks the success or failure of repeal this year may well come down to a single vote in the Senate, where 24 votes are needed for passage of legislation. Our source is also skeptical that Maryland politicians would bring the death penalty for a vote in 2014 (an election year); that means its now or perhaps never for abolitionists. 

Further compounding the urgency is that we have no idea what will happen in the next gubernatorial election, but right now we have a Governor who supports repeal. The current round of candidates to replace O'Malley in 2014, on the other hand, are a mixed bag on this human rights issue.

So with the Governor already on our side, and a new pledge for a Senate floor vote, its game time. We need to round-up twenty-four Senators in order to clear the first hurdle on the road to repeal. That means we will need all eight of Montgomery County's State Senators to hang together and pledge an early vote for repeal in 2013. We can't afford to have a Sam Arora-like incident on this issue, because we may not get another chance like this. Maryland Juice is currently constructing a whip-count of Montgomery County lawmakers on this issue to make sure we have our house in order. For now, I'm starting with the State Senate, but as the legislative session moves forward, we'll later post information about the House of Delegates, too. In any case, I've contacted all eight of MoCo's Senators and received responses from a few of them. For those I haven't yet heard from, I've researched their past positions on this issue and included them below. Here's my summary:
  1. Senator Jennie Forehand: NO RESPONSE YET // SUPPORTED REPEAL IN 2009 & 2010
  2. Senator Brian Frosh:  CONFIRMED SUPPORT FOR REPEAL IN 2013
  4. Senator Nancy King: CONFIRMED SUPPORT FOR REPEAL IN 2013
  5. Senator Rich Madaleno: CONFIRMED SUPPORT FOR REPEAL IN 2013
  6. Senator Roger Manno: CONFIRMED SUPPORT FOR REPEAL IN 2013
  7. Senator Karen Montgomery: CONFIRMED SUPPORT FOR REPEAL IN 2013
  8. Senator Jamie Raskin: CONFIRMED SUPPORT FOR REPEAL IN 2013

CONTACT SENATOR ROB GARAGIOLA & ASK HIM TO SUPPORT DEATH PENALTY REPEAL - So by the looks of it, if you live in Montgomery County right now the best thing you can do to help advance death penalty repeal is to contact State Senator Rob Garagiola and ask him to support the end of murder by the state government. A pair of 2009 Baltimore Sun articles list Garagiola as the sole death penalty supporter from Montgomery County, placing him alongside many Republican State Senators like David Brinkley and Alex Mooney and old school social conservadems like Mike Miller and Norm Stone (who voted to ban interracial marriage). But unlike for Norm Stone or Alex Mooney, we think there is hope for Garagiola. Please reach out if you have a moment:
James Senate Office Building, Room 104
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
1-800-492-7122, ext. 3169 (toll free)
fax: (410) 841-3607
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JUICE #3: NAACP BLASTS SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE HOLD-UP OF DEATH PENALTY REPEAL: Maryland Juice recently noted that Senate President Mike Miller (a supporter of government executions) was tinkering with the membership of committees to try and advance stalled wind power legislation. So on Sunday, we suggested that the same tactic should be considered for the Judiciary Committee, where death penalty repeal efforts have previously stalled.

In yesterday's Baltimore Sun, Maryland NAACP leader Gerald Stansbury also endorsed the idea in a piece calling on Miller to change the composition of the Judiciary committee. Stansbury highlighted the unrepresentative makeup of the 11 member committee (excerpt below):
GERALD STANSBURY // MD NAACP: Anyone who has followed the effort to repeal the death penalty in Maryland knows that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is the last obstacle needed to bring it to a long-overdue floor vote....

Despite Maryland's 31 percent African-American population, the committee has only one African-American member out of 11, Sen. Lisa Gladden of Baltimore. This is inexcusable for a group that oversees the death penalty, not to mention the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity, zero-tolerance policing and the use of SWAT teams....

Four of its 11 members are from Baltimore County, a large, predominantly white area that borders a large, predominantly African-American urban jurisdiction. Baltimore County is also the jurisdiction that has produced the overwhelming majority of death penalty prosecutions in the state.

It is no coincidence that that the four Baltimore County legislators are all "no" votes on allowing the death penalty repeal bill to go to a floor vote.... Every African-American senator in Maryland has signed a letter urging the repeal of the death penalty. These senators understand that in a state where nearly half of all murders go unsolved — the majority in predominantly African American neighborhoods — wasting our scarce funds on the death penalty is ineffective and unacceptable.

It's time for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to change the makeup of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee....

SIDEBAR: SEN. ANTHONY MUSE BUMPED OFF OF FINANCE COMMITTEE AND PLACED ON JUDICIARY COMMITTEE - Today Senate President Mike Miller did indeed increase the number of African Americans on the Judicary Committee. The Washington Post reports that Miller switched Prince George's Democrat Anthony Muse from the Finance Committee to the Judiciary Committee, but the switch was unrelated to the death penalty repeal effort and won't result in any additional votes for repeal. Muse (a death penalty opponent) is replacing another anti-death penalty lawmaker on the body (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) confirmed Thursday that he is making a change in committee assignments that should allow a wind-energy bill — a major priority of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) — to advance in the chamber....

When the General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, Muse will be replaced on the Finance Committee by Sen. Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George’s), Miller said. Muse will take Ramirez’s seat on the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Ramirez and Muse have voiced support for repealing the death penalty in recent years, so the swap should not affect committee votes on that issue. In recent years, bills to repeal the death penalty have fallen one vote short....

WANTED: LEADERSHIP ON THIS ISSUE - Alright folks, that's my quick round-up on the death penalty. If you're with me on this issue, it seems clear that we will have to demand more than just a vote from our allied politicians on this. We need them to be leaders on this issue and to start working on their colleagues. No more excuses. It is time to abandon the embarassingly inept policymaking symbolized by a Dark Ages practice like government executions.

Besides, Marylanders with any shred of state pride left in our Cold War with Virginia should be quick to embrace death penalty repeal. After all, I see Virginia's zeal for executions as something totally in line with the rest of their social policy differences with Maryland. But somehow we let the death penalty linger on and on over the years as a gross point of similarity. Enough!

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