Senator tries end run on death penalty bill

Miller quashes effort by Republican to get measure out of committee

March 30, 2001|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Pressure on lawmakers to vote on legislation that would temporarily halt executions in Maryland intensified yesterday when a strong-willed Republican tried to wrestle the bill onto the Senate floor for a debate.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick County invoked a rarely used legislative rule to bring the moratorium bill to the full chamber before a committee has acted on it. His effort was swiftly and forcefully quashed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"We don't have the bill before us, senator," Miller said loudly, over Mooney's protestations. "I know you're young, and you want to move forward on this, but we don't have the bill before us. ... You're out of order, senator!"

A countermove to stave off Mooney's motion until today, prompted by Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, passed 31-11. Many Republicans supported Mooney.

Democratic senators who back the moratorium - and who also have been contemplating such a move - were surprised and annoyed by Mooney's tactic.

"If I had done it, it would have worked," Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Baltimore Democrat, said.

Bromwell, who said he was inclined to vote against the moratorium, said he also was irritated by Mooney's breach of etiquette, and made his motion in part to save Miller from embarrassment, especially in front of the Louisiana politicians visiting yesterday.

In addition, he said, Miller is working hard to get a vote inside the committee. The bill calls for a two-year moratorium on executions. In the interim, the University of Maryland is to complete a study on whether the death penalty is applied unfairly to African-Americans, who account for nine of the 13 men on death row.

Although yesterday's scuffle ended quickly and without result, it represented the growing impatience of many lawmakers who have been waiting weeks to debate the bill, now languishing in the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Moratorium backers are trying to secure a vote before the Assembly adjourns April 9. Since Saturday, when the House of Delegates passed the bill, 82-54, they have been holding negotiations with Miller and Sen. Walter M. Baker, a Cecil County Democrat and chairman of Judicial Proceedings.

Moratorium supporters have been parsing Baker's every statement. On Wednesday, Baker said the bill would come up for a vote in his committee. "I have no plans to do that this week, but it doesn't mean that I won't," he said.

That sounded like a change of heart for Baker, whose previous comments had indicated he planned to ignore the bill. But yesterday, Baker again said, "I have no intention of doing anything."

His committee will vote on some bills this morning. Asked if the moratorium would among them, he replied, "It'll be on the voting list if it's on the voting list."

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

10 a.m. Senate meets, Senate chamber.

10:30 a.m. House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

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