MARYLAND GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Death penalty repeal passes House, goes to governor
Wednesday, 20 March 2013 11:45

Gas tax increase reaches House floor for vote

by Bill Gates

    The death penalty repeal bill passed the House of Delegates on Friday by an 82-56 vote.
    As Del. John Olszewski Jr. (6th District) predicted last week, every proposed amendment that would create an exception where the death penalty could still be imposed was defeated, foreshadowing the final vote.
    The bill had already passed the Senate 27-20 and now goes to Gov. Martin O’Malley for his signature.
    As repealing the death penalty has long been one of the governor’s goals, he is expected to sign it into law.
    With polls still showing a narrow majority of Marylanders supporting the death penalty, it is possible a drive could be launched to put the bill to referendum in the 2014 election.

“A lot will depend on if there is an organized referendum drive or not,” Olszewski said. “The folks who led prior efforts to send bills to referendum haven’t indicated if they are interested in coordinating a referendum effort.”
    Olszewski and fellow Sixth District delegates Joseph “Sonny” Minnick and Michael Weir Jr. voted against repealing the death penalty.
    Amendments were introduced that would allow the use of the death penalty in certain situations, such as murders committed by people already serving sentences of life without parole and for people convicted of particularly heinous murders, murders committed as part of a sexual assault and the the killing of children.
    Olszewski said last week if all the exception amendments were defeated, the death penalty repeal would pass.
    “I still thought the vote would be closer,” he said.
    Olszewski felt supporters of the death penalty repeal voted against the amendments because “if you truly support repeal and don’t think the state should be in the business of putting people to death, it’s implicit you will have that position in all situations.
    Minnick said Speaker of the House Michael Busch likely advised his supporters to kill all amendments submitted by Republicans.
    “He didn’t even bring up 19 amendments submitted by Democrats,” said Minnick, who, like Olszewski and Weir, is a Democrat.
    “Those amendments might have been the same as the ones submitted by Republicans, but we’ll never know.”
Gas tax increase becomes more likely
    The bill that would increase state gas taxes was approved by the House of Delegates Ways and Means committee on Monday and goes to the House floor for approval.
    The House will hear amendments on Wednesday and Friday and could vote on it by this weekend.
    The bill would raise the gas tax by 3.8 cents on July 1, with additional increases taking effect over the next three years until the final amount is 16 cents per gallon.
    “I am strongly opposed to a gas tax,” Minnick said. “There are thousands and thousands of dollars entering the state Transportation Fund every day. The problem is, it’s not staying there. We just need to stop raiding the Transportation Fund for other purposes.”
    The gas tax is strongly supported by Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City, said Olszewski.
    So, expect to be paying more at the pump soon.
    “The sense I get, is that the ‘Big Three’ jurisdictions will largely vote as a bloc to support it,” Olszewski said. “That’s 65 votes, and they only need six more to get to 71 votes. Just do the math.”
No more tilting at windmills on wind farms
    The House of Delegates also voted to approve legislation that would construct a wind farm off the coast of Ocean City on Monday by a vote of 88-48.
    The bill now goes to Gov. O’Malley, who has made building a wind farm one of his main goals.
    Minnick, who opposed the bill, doesn’t think it’s passage will change anything.
    “I predict it will never come to be,” he said. “None of us will live long enough to ever see a wind farm off the coast of Ocean City.
    “When people see the finer points of how much it will cost, they’ll decide the juice will not be worth the squeeze. It’s the ultimate feel-good environmental legislation, but it will never happen.”
    The bill would require electricity customers in Maryland to pay a $1.50 monthly surcharge.
    But Minnick believes the subsidy still won’t make the project attractive to potential developers needed to construct the wind farm.
    Even if it is built, “people on the western shore of Maryland won’t get any benefit from it, but will have to pay for it,” Minnick said.