An amendment that passed by a single vote in the House of Delegates Tuesday morning takes the teeth out of a bill that gives the governor a deadline to act on a recommendation to parole an inmate serving a life sentence.
The amendment passed with a vote of 67-66, with seven delegates not voting. Soon after the vote, Del. Michael Vaughn, D- Prince George’s County, – who voted for it – made a motion to reconsider the amendment. Del. Curt Anderson, D- Baltimore City, moved to actually vote on the reconsideration on Wednesday.
The bill, already passed by both House and Senate in slightly different form, would give the governor a time limit to take action on a recommendation from the Parole Commission to parole an inmate serving a life sentence. If the governor does not act in time – 90 days according to the House version, and 180 days according to the Senate version – the inmate would be automatically paroled.
As the Senate bill came to the House on Tuesday, Del. John Olszewski, D- Baltimore County, proposed an amendment to completely change what happens when the governor does not take action. instead of the inmate being released from prison as the original bill had it, the inmate would stay in prison under the amendment.
“The people deserve answers, and I don’t think the default answer should be yes,” Olszewski said.
Impassioned arguments came from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday morning.
Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford, said that during his campaign, he heard from lots of different constituencies asking him to do different things in Annapolis. However, he said, nobody asked him to do anything to bring more mercy to people serving life prison sentences, like convicted murderers.
“Who is benefitting?” McDonough asked. “The victims? The community? I am amazed this is even here.”
Anderson said that he could not argue for the people who are currently serving life sentences with the possibility of parole; their crimes are what they are. However, he said that those inmates have been vying for parole for years and have spent at least 25 years in prison already.
According to previous debate, only about seven inmates would be affected by the bill.
Members of the Parole Commission hear many pleas for forgiveness, Anderson said, and they do check the entire record. Victims of crime and their families are always notified when a parole hearing concerning them is coming up, and are given every opportunity to add to the record.
In 47 states, Anderson said, the Parole Commission has the final word on who gets out of prison early.
“Maryland is one of three states where the governor is involved. And what we’re trying to say is, ‘Governor, you remain involved, but…’” Anderson said.
Del. Jon Cardin, D- Baltimore County, agreed with Anderson’s position. Under the initial bill, it is still very easy for the governor to deny parole to someone serving a life sentence. He just has a time frame in which to do that.
Many members reacted with gasps to the razor-close vote tally on the initial amendment. The vote on the motion that would move its reconsideration to Wednesday passed with a much more comfortable margin: 83-56.