Wednesday, February 20, 2013

THURSDAY: Death Penalty Vote in Maryland Senate Judiciary // PREDICTIONS: Sen. Bobby Zirkin = Key Swing Vote & More!

With a key vote coming on Thursday, Maryland Juice decided to provide an update on the effort to repeal the death penalty in the Free State. If a majority of State Senators support an end to executions in Maryland, Senate President Mike Miller promised he would find a way to bring the measure to the floor for a vote by the full membership. And though a sufficient number of State Senators have now indicated they will support repeal, the dynamics and backstories are not as simple as it would seem. Below we highlight a few elements of the complicated legislative maneuvering going on in Annapolis:

STEP 1: PASS DEATH PENALTY REPEAL IN SENATE JUDICIARY (AKA CONTACT SEN. BOBBY ZIRKIN NOW) - The reason why Mike Miller's intervention was thought to be necessary for death penalty repeal to advance is that the bill is originating in the Maryland Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee, where it has always faced an uncertain fate. So if a majority of Senators wanted to get rid of the death penalty but simply couldn't get the judiciary committee to release the bill, Miller promised to intervene and bring the measure for a floor vote. We never heard what legislative tactic Miller would employ to achieve this result, but there is now a good chance death penalty opponents may not need to bypass the Senate judiciary after all. But this all depends on whether or not State Senator Bobby Zirkin will join death penalty repeal opponents.

JUDICIARY WHIP-COUNT? - Indeed, there will be a vote on repeal in judiciary this Thursday, and it is currently unclear what will happen. But if the whispers Maryland Juice hears are correct, a likely snapshot of the current committee whip-count on death penalty repeal is as follows:

  1. Sen. Jennie Forehand (DEM)
  2. Sen. Brian Frosh (DEM)
  3. Sen. Lisa Gladden (DEM)
  4. Sen. Anthony Muse (DEM)
  5. Sen. Jamie Raskin (DEM)

  1. Sen. Jim Brochin (DEM)
  2. Sen. Joseph Getty (GOP)
  3. Sen. Nancy Jacobs (GOP)
  4. Sen. Chris Shank (GOP)
  5. Sen. Norm Stone (DEM)

  1. Sen. Bobby Zirkin (DEM)

SEN. BOBBY ZIRKIN UNDECIDED ON DEATH PENALTY REPEAL // CONTACT HIM ASAP - Maryland Juice visited the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last week and had the opportunity to discuss death penalty repeal face to face with State Senator Bobby Zirkin. He indicated that he is undecided on the issue and apparently, his wife and rabbi are lobbying him to support death penalty repeal. Maryland Juice encourages those who want to end executions in Maryland to contact State Senator Bobby Zirkin ASAP and explain your feelings on the issue:
Sen. Bobby Zirkin 
(410) 841-3131

STEP 2: PASS DEATH PENALTY REPEAL ON SENATE FLOOR WITHOUT AMENDMENTS - Let's get real about death penalty strategy for a second. Right now, we have the votes in the Senate to pass a repeal bill, assuming that the bill can make it to the floor for a vote. There are currently two routes to advance the bill in the Senate: a) pass it in the Judiciary committee, or b) Sen. Mike Miller intervenes and finds a way to send it to the floor. For many reasons, it is far preferable to have the repeal bill advance through Judiciary than to have to rely on the assistance of Mike Miller. Remember that Sen. Mike Miller is a supporter of death penalty executions and will likely try and tamper with (aka amend) the bill before seeing it through to its destined passage.

SEN. MIKE MILLER TRYING TO SABOTAGE DEATH PENALTY REPEAL? - Even while he pledged to "allow" the bill to be voted on by the full body, Senate President Miller predicted that the death penalty ban would be petitioned to a referendum. What he didn't mention is that he was planning on intervening to try and increase the likelihood of a 2014 referendum on the death penalty. WAMU reported on Miller's backdoor efforts to subject death penalty repeal to a popular vote in 2014. Indeed, Miller is trying to placate the progressive majority in his caucus while undermining their efforts at the same time (excerpt below):
WAMU: ...Senate President Mike Miller, a supporter of the death penalty, expects a repeal of it to pass his chamber this year — something that did not happen when the measure last made it to the Senate floor in 2009 — getting to that point is still not a guarantee.

A part of this year's bill includes an appropriation, which means it wouldn't be able to petitioned to a ballot referendum for voters to decide, and Miller wants that changed.

"It's a subterfuge to avoid having it petitioned to referendum," Miller says. "And, although I don't like to see bills petitioned to referendum, I don't believe in trying to thwart the constitution and the laws of the state which allows for petitioning to referendum...."

MIKE MILLER WANTS TO STRIP FUNDING FOR CRIME VICTIMS OUT OF DEATH PENALTY REPEAL BILL - What's going on here is that in Maryland, residents can subject laws passed by the state legislature for repeal votes -- but only if they do not concern appropriations. Whether a law is sufficiently about "appropriations" to prevent it from being petitioned to a popular vote is a subject of great debate. But some are skeptical that dedicating the taxpayer savings from death penalty repeal to crime victims is sufficient for the bill to avoid a referendum. Indeed, this matter would need to be heard by a court in Maryland to decide on this issue.

As a result, Sen. Mike Miller wants to remove funding for crime victims from the death penalty repeal bill. He is willing to engage in such an underhanded and callous tactic in order to foreclose the very small possibility that Maryland courts might invalidate an effort to subject death penalty repeal to a popular vote.

If you agree with me that Maryland's death penalty represents:
  1. murder by state government employees paid for with our tax dollars
  2. an ineffective crime deterrent & an expensive way of expressing our feelings
  3. a symbol of humanity's vengeful & violent side, unbefitting of codification into law
...then hopefully you understand why the idea of subjecting a ban on murder by the state government to a majority vote seems a bit distasteful. After all, when philosophers and social scientists ruminate on the pros and cons of the initiative and referenda processes in various states, they often fear the effects of so-called "mob rule." But in this instance, Miller literally wants to preserve the right of the pitchfork mob to execute prisoners (using state employees and resources). 

SENATE PRESIDENT TRYING TO UNDERMINE HIS OWN CHAMBER'S POWER TO LEGISLATE? - It may well turn out that we are heading to a death penalty referendum in 2014, especially if the GOP activists again decide to spend their time working on distasteful causes. But the idea that the Senate President would facilitate such a diminution of his own Chamber's powers is perplexing and disappointing. The bloodlust is strong in our Senate President.  Death penalty repeal advocates will need to stop Miller and his allies from trying to amend the bill. All signs indicate they will try and alter the legislation in ways that will increase the likelihood of the effort being subjected to a popular vote. This in turn means that advocates like myself will end up spending countless hours fighting the pitchfork mob in 2014. There are better things we can be working on, so please help prevent this scenario from unfolding. Tell your Senators to support the repeal bill without negative amendments.

MIKE MILLER ALREADY PLANNING DEATH PENALTY EXPANSION AFTER 2014 - It seems absolutely clear that Miller is just going through the motions on death penalty repeal, given that the Senate President is already plotting ways to expand the death penalty in Maryland. The Associated Press (via WBOC) recently reported on Miller's plans to make the death penalty more likely to execute innocent people in Maryland (excerpt):
AP: In 2009, lawmakers decided to restrict the death penalty to murder cases with DNA evidence, videotaped evidence or a videotaped confession.

If voters end up rejecting repeal, Miller says the law should be changed to allow capital cases with fingerprinting or photographic evidence as well.

Last month the College Park Patch also reported that Miller wanted to expand the types of crimes eligible for the death penalty in Maryland. Their coverage gives a taste of the types of ridiculous amendments Miller may try and make for the death penalty repeal bill (excerpt below):
COLLEGE PARK PATCH: While some Maryland legislators want to debate the repeal of the death penalty there is one category of murder Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller would like to add to the list of capital punishment eligible cases.

Miller said Wednesday that he'd like to expand the add teacher killers to the list.... Miller said he has six sisters who are teachers.... "So when we take up this bill, I'd like to see [teacher killers] added to the list of prescribed penalties," Miller said....

STEP 3: PASS DEATH PENALTY REPEAL IN THE HOUSE - Once death penalty repeal passes in the Senate, we'll have to repeat this whole saga in Maryland House of Delegates. But let's park that discussion for now.

STEP 4: HIRE A GOOD LAWYER (NOT ATTORNEY GENERAL DOUG GANSLER) - So let's say we are able to pass death penalty repeal out of the Senate's judiciary committee; and let's further imagine that we are able to preserve funding for crime victims in the bill. Let's also assume that an identical bill passes in the Maryland House.

At this point, there will be a decent chance that Republican activists will try and subject death penalty repeal to a referendum in 2014. In that case, those who support repeal will need a good attorney to argue that the repeal bill is not subject to referendum. Unfortunately, the chief lawyer for the State of Maryland cannot be trusted to argue this case. Indeed, Attorney General Doug Gansler is a supporter of the death penalty, and at last check Gansler was arguing that he could make the death penalty not be applied in a racist manner.

Good luck stamping out racial bias within juries, between neighborhoods and in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion! If Gansler can solve those human problems, then he may deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, rather than the Maryland Governor's mansion.  


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