Death penalty repeal effort begins anew
Opponents of capital punishment say they have more co-sponsors than ever on legislation to repeal the state's rarely used death penalty.
The announcement by Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg on Thursday came as the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services acknowledged it needs more time to rewrite the execution protocols — a process that has taken several years so far, creating a de facto moratorium.
Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, submitted the repeal bill Thursday. The strategy this year, he and other supporters said, is to push the legislation through the more repeal-friendly House of Delegates before presenting it to the tougher-to-predict Senate.
But that approach appears likely to hit a wall: Controversial bills typically are vetted first by the Senate, which has the power to filibuster. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who says he has some reservations about capital punishment but does not oppose it, said the Senate is "the appropriate place" for the legislation’s first hearing.
"Considering the Senate had the latest word on the death penalty," he said, "I would want to see whether they have any appetite to take it up again."
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a longtime death penalty opponent, made a major push for repeal two years ago. His efforts were halted by senators who instead chose to make the existing capital punishment statute more restrictive.
Death penalty supporters say the state should keep the statute, which they say is now among the most restrictive in the nation.
"We've had a full-court press for repeal for three years now, and it has never succeeded," said Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger.
O'Malley is not leading the charge this year, but death penalty opponents said they believe they can get repeal legislation through the General Assembly without him. They say they have found 61 co-sponsors in the House, where 71 votes are needed for passage, and 21 in the Senate, where 24 are needed.
At a news conference Thursday, the death penalty opponents cited continuing obstacles in drafting execution protocols as another reason the state should simply repeal the statute. The latest problem is that one of the chemicals used in lethal injection, sodium thiopental, is no longer available in the United States.
In a letter Thursday, Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard said he is withdrawing the protocols that a panel of lawmakers had been scheduled to review next week. He said his agency will begin to write a new procedure, a process expected to take another six or more months.
But the delays at least partly reflect the political complications of the issue: The protocols are written by public safety officials who report to O'Malley. , a death penalty opponent. They are then reviewed by the legislative panel, headed by two other death penalty opponents.
Maryland's last execution was in December 2005. Five men are on the state's death row.