Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

March 03, 2007

O'Malley and Mooney discuss death penalty

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Republican Sen. Alex X. Mooney, the expected swing vote on a death penalty repeal measure being considered by a key Senate committee, met privately Tuesday to discuss possible compromise proposals, Mooney said yesterday.

The new Democratic governor has testified in favor of the repeal, but Mooney, a Catholic conservative from Frederick, has said that he is torn between his faith and his party.

The Sun reported last weekend that Mooney said he was pondering the possibility of amending the repeal bill to create exceptions for the murder of police and correctional officers. He said yesterday in an interview that he is still weighing his options but hasn't drafted any amendments.

Mooney said his meeting with O'Malley - their first ever - lasted about a half-hour and was held in the governor's office.

Topics ranged from the death penalty to their shared Irish heritage. The conversation was scheduled at Mooney's request, and the senator said Irish music played quietly in the background throughout.

"It was a little bit of get-to-know-you," Mooney said. "No promises were made, no decisions were made."

Mooney said he still was undecided about the measure but wanted to hear directly from the governor about his support for the bill, his feelings about commuting sentences and whether he would support an amended proposal.

He said the governor did not pressure him, and that the discussion was amiable.

"All options are on the table frankly," Mooney said. "I could vote for the repeal. I could vote against the repeal. I'm sort of comfortable waiting to see if the House does anything with it."

The repeal bill, filed in the House of Delegates and Senate, would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole.

The Maryland Court of Appeals halted state executions in December, determining that the procedures for administering lethal injections should be overseen by the legislature.

Democratic Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he has not scheduled a committee vote on the measure.

The House Judiciary Committee has also heard testimony on the measure but has not voted either.

Jennifer Skalka

Miller slots plan to get hearing

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said his proposal to legalize slot machines will get a committee hearing Tuesday, and he predicted it will pass - though maybe not this year.

Miller said he would have representatives of the AFL-CIO, the Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Washington Board of Trade to testify on behalf of his plan, which would allow 15,500 slot machines at seven locations throughout the state. Backers say proceeds would help balance the state budget, provide jobs and save Maryland's horse racing industry.

"It's one thing business and labor are united and agreeing upon," Miller said. "It's definitely going to happen - at the latest next session."

Gov. Martin O'Malley supports a limited slots program at the tracks but has said he wants to put off that debate until next year.

Slots bills failed in each of the past four years, and the proposal still faces strong opposition, particularly in the House, where many lawmakers fear that gambling would have a corrosive influence on communities.

Andrew A. Green and Jennifer Skalka

Extending hate-crimes bill fails

A proposal to extend the state's hate crimes protections to the disabled failed yesterday in the state Senate yesterday, 33 to 14.

Those who voted against the measure - which was submitted as an amendment to a bill that would add the homeless as a protected class - said that they did not necessarily oppose it, but they wanted the issue to be heard in committee where experts and citizens could testify about its merits.

"I don't think we want to add to it just based on a hunch or a whim," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which voted for the homeless bill. " ... If this is an important class let us have a hearing on it and we'll deal with it next year."

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, who offered the amendment, shot back: "I would hate to have the consideration of adding the disabled called a hunch or a whim."

The homeless proposal - backed by the Maryland Catholic Conference, Health Care for the Homeless, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty - is sponsored by Republican Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick County.

It would add the homeless to a statute that protects people who are targeted victims of crimes because of their race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or national origin. It also prohibits the defacement or destruction, burning or attempted burning of a person's property.

The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

Jennifer Skalka

Lower guard-hiring age sought

The minimum hiring age for Maryland correctional officers would rise from 18 to 21 under a bill in the state House of Delegates supported by veteran prison workers and their unions.

The Maryland Correctional Training Commission lowered the age threshold in 2002 to expand the pool of potential applicants for chronic vacancies in the Division of Correction.

Of 4,881 state correctional officers, 173 are younger than 21, according to the Department of Legislative Services.

Associated Press

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