Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed a bill repealing Maryland’s death penalty into law Thursday, but the fight might not be over for advocates on both sides of the issue.
Death-penalty opponents say they’ll continue lobbying on behalf of the five men left on death row, while supporters are weighing whether to try to petition the new law to the ballot in 2014.
“Just as we have a responsibility to do more of the things that save lives, we have a responsibility to stop doing the things that are wasteful and ineffective,” O’Malley said at a bill-signing ceremony in Annapolis.
Lawmakers gave final approval to the repeal in March. The House voted 82-56 and the Senate voted 27-20 in favor of the measure.
An earlier attempt at repeal failed in 2009, but a compromise restricting its use passed.
Maryland has not executed anyone since 2005, and O’Malley has said he will decide whether to commute the sentences of the remaining death-row inmates on a case-by-case basis.
“This is obviously a very important step because [Maryland] is a state south of the Mason-Dixon line,” said Brian Evans, acting director of Amnesty International USA’s Abolish the Death Penalty Campaign.
The group will continue to push for O’Malley to commute the remaining death sentences, as well as to push for money to be included in the state’s budget to go to the families of victims of violent crimes.
“We recognize that people who have suffered a loss through violent crime, they have rights,” Evans said. “They don't have a right to see someone killed, but they have a right to support from their government.”
The initial version of the repeal measure contained language allocating $500,000 annually to fund services for violent crime victims and their families, but it was removed by a Senate committee amid concerns that such a provision might prevent the bill from being petitioned to the ballot.
The organization that backed three major ballot initiatives in the 2012 election, MDPetitions.com, has not yet said whether it will spearhead a petition drive on the death penalty, but has had petition language approved by the State Board of Elections.
Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown, the chairman of MDPetitions.com, said the group would announce its decision in Baltimore Friday.
No one else submitted petition language regarding the death penalty for pre-approval before the May 1 deadline, said Jared DeMarinis, the board’s director of candidacy and campaign finance.
Supporters of the death penalty would need to collect 55,736 valid signatures to put the measure before voters, with 18,579 signatures due by May 31.
Recent polls have shown that a majority of Marylanders favor keeping the death penalty.