In generally progressive Montgomery County, just two lawmakers are opposed to one of the most controversial bills of the 2013 session.
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola (D-Dist. 15) and Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Dist. 39), both of Germantown, are planning to vote against a measure by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to repeal Maryland’s death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Both Garagiola and Barkley gave similar reasons for opposing the bill, saying that the death penalty should be on the books for the most egregious of crimes.
“For the most heinous crimes, it should be available,” Garagiola said. “We have five inmates on death row, and it’s used so sparingly. And really, we have such a high standard that it’s very difficult to put an innocent person on death row.”
Others in the county, including the other 30 senators and delegates in the Montgomery County delegation, disagree.
“I believe the death penalty is costly, it’s not a deterrent, it’s racially biased, and ultimately there’s not a place for it in civilized society,” said Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Dist. 14) of Burtonsville, who chairs the county delegation.
While the campaign to repeal the death penalty has been ongoing for more than a decade, this year Kaiser’s opinion is shared by the majority of those in Annapolis: On Thursday, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted in favor of moving the bill to the full Senate, where it is expected to pass, thanks in large part to the swing vote of Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills. The bill is expected to be debated on the floor this week.
The House is waiting for the Senate to finish debating and amending the bill before taking it up, but a similar repeal bill has passed in the House in previous years and is expected to do so again.
Kaiser said that while she thinks the majority of Montgomery County residents also favor repeal, she acknowledged that the county’s legislators are more left-leaning than the general public.
“I’m sure there’s a mixed view on the death penalty among residents,” Kaiser said. “Most of us representatives come from a more progressive background.”
Garagiola and Barkley represent the northwest portion of Montgomery County, a section that is among the least liberal, Garagiola said.
“There are several pockets [in my district] that are very conservative,” Garagiola said. His position on the bill, he added, “is partly down to that, and it’s partly to do with personal beliefs.”