February 15, 2013

State Roundup, February 15, 2013

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DEATH PENALTY REPEAL TESTIMONY: Sensing a real chance to abolish the death penalty in Maryland after years of trying, opponents of capital punishment brought a parade of religious, political and civil rights leaders to Annapolis yesterday to urge lawmakers to do away with the ultimate sanction, writes Tim Wheeler and Michael Dresser for the Sun. Among those testifying were Gov. Martin O’Malley and Roman Catholic Archbishop William Lori.

O’Malley pressed lawmakers to abolish the death penalty at a pair of charged hearings, invoking morality and fairness while arguing that capital punishment is at odds with “our values as a people,” writes John Wagner in the Post.

O’Malley’s legislation would only affect future cases, and life without parole would be the highest form of punishment. The legislation would also require the governor to allocate $500,000 of annual savings from the repeal to the Maryland Victims of Crime Fund, devoted to the needs of murder victims’ families, Alex Jackson of the Capital-Gazette reports.

Wearing a red tulip that identified her as a relative of a murder victim, New Market resident Vicki Schieber came before Maryland lawmakers yesterday to say the death penalty brings no peace to families like hers, writes Bethany Rodgers for the Frederick News Post.

Sen. Ronald Young is the only legislator from the Washington County delegation supporting the governor’s bill, Kaustuv Basu reports in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. Young said, “I … have been talking to prison wardens who tell me that life without parole is a slow death penalty. When I hear things like that, I can support the governor’s bill.”

Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner reports that Harford County State’s Attorney Joe Cassilly said the death penalty is the only punishment that can be handed to inmates already serving a life sentence who murder fellow inmates or corrections officers. It’s “a bill to legalize certain forms of murder,” he said.

As reported by Holly Nunn of the Gazette: “Every dollar we throw at an ineffective, flawed and arbitrary death penalty is a dollar we are not investing to prevent future murders and save innocent lives,” O’Malley said during a hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on his bill to repeal the death penalty.

Gazette columnist Barry Rascovar writes on the vexing issue of the death penalty.

PUBLIC LOCKED OUT: This time, locking out reporters appeared to be an honest mistake, reports the Post’s Aaron Davis and Kate Havard. Maryland’s House of Delegates unanimously approved two pieces of legislation on Thursday as reporters and members of the public were locked outside the chamber.

PUBLIC TESTIMONY & TRANSPARENCY: The Maryland Senate has rejected a rules change that would require Senate committee chairs to arrange a larger venue and eliminate time limits for testimony on bills of “extraordinary interest,” which had been proposed earlier this week by Sen. E.J. Pipkin, the Capital-Gazette’s Alex Jackson reports. The Senate also voted down a rules change that would require Senate committees to stream audio of their voting sessions on the legislature’s website.

TEACHER TAX CREDIT: A bill that would give public and private school educators a $500 state income tax credit for purchasing school supplies could be headed back to the drawing board, reports Tim Pratt of the Capital-Gazette. While members of the House Ways and Means Committee said they liked the idea of helping educators who purchase classroom materials with their own money, the potential fiscal impact to the state caused concern.

PANEL OKs PIT BULL BILL: A House of Delegates committee has unanimously approved a bill that would overturn a controversial ruling by Maryland’s high court that last year singled out pit bulls as “inherently dangerous,” reports Alexander Pyles for the Daily Record

HIGHER ED FUNDING: WYPR’s Fraser Smith and Julie Scharper of the Sun talk about the increase in state funding for Maryland’s public universities and its potential effect on student graduation.

FREDERICK DEAL ON SEPTIC LAW: Frederick County commissioners say they have reached a compromise with state planners that could both uphold Maryland’s septic laws and let the county develop in agricultural areas, writes Patti Borda for the Frederick News-Post.

ENERGY STAR WEEKEND: Jane Bellmyer of the Cecil Whig reports that Maryland homeowners in need of a new heat pump, refrigerator, dehumidifier, clothes washer or room air conditioner will get extra help this holiday weekend, since the state Comptroller’s Office has declared Feb. 16-18 Shop Maryland Energy Weekend, making it a tax-free weekend on Energy Star rated appliances.

HARRIS ON APPROPRIATIONS: John Fritze of the Sun reports that U.S. Rep. Andy Harris was appointed to serve on the powerful House Appropriations Committee yesterday, giving the state another voice in how federal dollars are spent.

NEW LEOPOLD TRIAL DENIED: Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney has denied former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold’s request for a new trial, saying the appeal was “without merit,” the Sun’s Andrea Siegel reports. Leopold, 70, was convicted last month of misconduct in office.

Allison Bourg of the Capital-Gazette reports that, in their motion for a new trial, Leopold’s attorneys argued that one of the misconduct charges of which Leopold was found guilty contained too many components for him to be convicted.

COUNCIL CAN’T SEEK EXEC SEAT: Allison Bourg of the Capital Gazette reports that a legal opinion issued yesterday says that, in an attempt to prevent opportunism and musical chairs, the Anne Arundel County Charter prohibits council members from applying for the open county executive seat.

GOP PROSPECTS: Republicans take some solace in an internal poll that shows winning a statewide office is doable but difficult, Margie Hyslop reports in the Gazette. (The lead paragraph appears to be missing.)

NOTEBOOK: The Gazette’s Reporters Notebook has items on Sen. Joe Getty’s Lincoln Day speech; Del. Anne Kaiser’s Washington Day speech; Alex Mooney; manure spreaders; khapra beetles; and domestic violence victims.

SCHOOL SEX OFFENSES: Maryland legislators and school system officials want to see that anyone in a position of authority over students can be charged for sexual offenses, not just full-time personnel, Jen Bondeson reports in the Gazette. Four bills in the General Assembly this year attempt to close a loophole in the law regarding fourth-degree sex offense.

ELECTION LAWS: Following an election season marked by long lines and long ballots, Maryland lawmakers are confronting a flurry of bills aimed at tweaking the voting process, Holly Nunn writes in the Gazette. Sixteen bills will be heard in the House Ways & Means Committee Thursday.