The organization that backed three major ballot-issue petition drives in the 2012 election — none of which succeeded on Election Day — has now launched an effort to place a recently adopted law repealing Maryland’s death penalty before voters in 2014.
MDPetitions.com posted to the new petition on its website late with week, invoking the recent bombing of the Boston Marathon to encourage visitors to sign up.
The words “What if ... it was the Baltimore Marathon Bombing?” appear next to two photographs — one apparently of the aftermath of the Boston attack, the other of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. “Now is NOT the time to repeal the death penalty in Maryland.” the website reads.
Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown, the group’s chairman, and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger announced the petition effort at Camden Yards in Baltimore, near site of the Baltimore Marathon’s finish line, Friday.
“What if there were terrorist attacks [there?]” Parrott told The Gazette after the announcement. “There wouldn’t be an appropriate response in Maryland with the repeal of the death penalty.”
Even though the federal death penalty might apply in such a case, it’s important to have a state law on the books as authorities from different jurisdictions decide how to try a suspect, Parrott said.
Furthermore, those who want to repeal capital punishment don’t want to stop with one state, but want to see it repealed nationwide, he said.
The repeal measure, sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), passed the Senate 27-20 and the House 86-52 in this year’s General Assembly session. O’Malley signed the bill into law Thursday.
Maryland currently has five men on death row, and has not executed anyone since 2005. A 2009 effort to repeal the death penalty ended with new restrictions on when capital punishment could be imposed.
The petition drive will need to collect 55,736 signatures to place repeal on the 2014 ballot, giving voters a chance to reject it. The group must submit 18,579 of those by May 31.
“This is the latest we’ve ever started a referendum effort,” Parrott said, adding that meeting this month’s deadline would require many volunteers to collect signatures across the state.
Recent polls have shown that a majority of Marylanders support retaining the death penalty.
MDPetitions.com also sponsored the petition drives to overturn same-sex marriage, the state’s new congressional district map and the Maryland Dream Act, all three of which were upheld by voters in the 2012 election.
Parrott said his group has learned from last year that a successful referendum effort must be followed by a “sustained campaign until November 2014.”
Such a campaign will require a grass-roots fundraising effort, he said, adding that “the funds are not there right now.
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which was a vocal supporter of the repeal effort, issued a statement Friday morning urging Marylanders not to sign the referendum petition.
Parrott recently announced that his organization will not petition Maryland’s newly adopted gun-control legislation to the ballot, but will instead support a legal challenge to the law expected to be filed by the National Rifle Association.