Wednesday, 13 March 2013 07:57

Death penalty repeal bill goes to House floor for vote

Proposal to raise gas tax by 16 cents/gallon

by Bill Gates

    The repeal of the death penalty in Maryland moved one step closer to becoming a reality after it reached the floor of the House of Delegates earlier this week.
    A vote on the bill, which has already passed the Senate, could happen on Friday.
    “I think it’s going to be close,” Del. John Olszewski Jr. (6th District) said. “My guess is, they’ll have the votes to pass it.”
    A good indication of the likelihood of the bill passing would have come on Wednesday when the House of Delegates was to vote on proposed amendments.

    The majority of the amendments would add exceptions to the bill; i.e., allow for certain circumstances in which the death penalty could still be applied.
    Amendments are expected to allow the death penalty to be applied to people convicted of murdering police officers; to convicts serving life sentences without parole who are convicted of murdering other convicts or corrections officers; or people who commit mass murders like the recent killing of elementary school children in Newtown, Conn.
    “Based on the folks who oppose the amendments, we’ll get a sense of how close the vote will be,” Olszewski said. “If the amendments are voted down, the repeal is likely.”
    The chairman of the Baltimore County House delegation, Olszewski opposes repealing the death penalty along with fellow 6th District delegates Joseph “Sonny” Minnick and Michael Weir Jr.
    They support the death penalty for three main reasons: crimes that are so “heinous and disgusting” as to warrant capital punishment; as a way to punish a prisoner serving life without parole who may feel they have nothing left to lose before killing another inmate or a corrections officer; and to keep the death penalty as an option for prosecutors to use in plea-bargains with suspects who are accused of committing capital crimes.
    “Repealing the death penalty really takes away a prosecutorial tool,” Olszewski said. “It’s leverage that is used very effectively to get plea-bargains in capital punishment-eligible crimes, and helps get convictions while avoiding having family members go through the trial and relive that horrible experience.”
    Currently, Maryland will not invoke the death penalty unless there is indisputable DNA evidence linking a suspect to the crime, or there is a videotaped confession.
    “DNA evidence is pretty foolproof,” Olszewski said. “Requiring it got the state out of the business of being unsure [as to a person’s guilt], which is a good thing.”

Gas tax hike proposed
    After floating the idea from the beginning of the legislative session — and despite widespread public opposition — Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Democratic leaders of the House of Delegates and State Senate made it official last week: the state wants to raise gas taxes.
    The bill, called the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013, was introduced in both houses on March 4 and endorsed by O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.
    It would increase the gas tax by two cents a gallon in July, followed by another seven-cent increase in 2014 and a possible further seven cents in 2015.
    The 2015 increase would be cancelled if Congress passes a bill before then allowing states to impose a sales tax on Internet purchases.
    The money gained through the increased gas taxes would go into the state transportation fund to pay for highway, transit and transportation projects.
    The transportation fund is so depleted, state officials say, that by 2017, there will only be enough money to pay for basic maintenance projects and none for construction.
    “I concede that our transportation fund is not where most of us would like it to be,” Olszewski said. “But there are other ways, better ways to go about replenishing it.”
    One way is a bill sposnored by Del. Eric Bromwell (8th District), which would put slot machines in Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
    All the money raised from those machines would go into the state transportation fund.
    “Gas taxes are one of the most regressive taxes out there,” Olszewski said. “They disproportionally hit lower-income families.”
    Olszewski, along with Minnick and Weir and Sen. Norman R. Stone, have indicated they will oppose the gas tax bill.
    It is currently in committee in both houses.