Death penalty opponents work to sidestep referendum

Note: this is my first article posted at the Watchdog Wire.

After seeing several of their other pet issues derailed for months due to spirited referendum efforts by opponents, those who wish to rescind the death penalty in Maryland are trying to take advantage of a provision in the Maryland Constitution to protect a bill to repeal the state’s little-used death penalty from having its fate decided by voters. Polling numbers suggest they have cause to be worried: last month’s Maryland Poll by Gonzales Research pegged support for the death penalty from 49% of those polled, with 44% in opposition.

Yet Article XVI of the Maryland Constitution exempts bills with an appropriation from the referendum process, and a small portion of the crossfiled measures House Bill 295 and Senate Bill 276 both state that:

For Fiscal Year 2015 and each Fiscal Year thereafter, the Governor shall include in the annual budget submission $500,000 for the (State Victims of Crime) Fund, redirected from General Fund savings resulting from the repeal of the death penalty.

That provision would amount to less than 1/1000 of 1% of the overall state budget, but in a strict reading of Article XVI of the state Constitution this clause would seem to preclude any effort for repealing the death penalty in Maryland from being acted upon by the voters in 2014. Passage of the bill is nearly a certainty given the Senate and House versions of the bill respectively have 21 and 67 co-sponsors – 24 Senate and 71 House votes are needed for passage.

(continued at the Watchdog Wire…)