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The Baltimore Sun

Turmoil in the Maryland Senate

The Republican Caucus of the Maryland Senate has done a fine job chronicling the turmoil on the Senate floor today as the death penalty debate unfolded. Here's their account:

Proving the point that committee work is best done in a standing committee and not on the Senate floor, the Senate approved two amendments to SB 279 - Criminal Law - Death Penalty - Repeal that gutted the repeal provisions of the bill and substituted stricter requirements before the death penalty can be applied in a criminal case.

First, Senator James Brochin (D - Baltimore County) offered an amendment to strip the repeal provisions but require that a defendant could not be sentenced to the death penalty solely on the basis of eyewitness evidence.

Under Brochin's heightened requirements, prosecutors would have to provide physical evidence in addition to any eyewitness testimony before the death penalty applied. This amendment passed by a vote of 25 yeas and 21 nays.

Second, Senator Robert Zirkin (D - Baltimore County) offered an amendment that provided more specific requirements for physical evidence that must be introduced before a defendant can be sentenced to a death penalty. The Zirkin provisions require that a prosecutor introduce either: (1) biological or DNA evidence; (2) a videotaped voluntary interrogation and confession of the defendant; or (3) a video-recording that conclusively links the defendatn to the murder.

After adoption of these amendments, action on additional amendments floundered as Senators requested an explanation of the impact of prior amendments. When informed that the bill no longer contain repeal provisions, several anti-death penalty members expressed dismay at the course of the floor proceedings.

"What we are getting is a real mess!" bemoaned Senator Delores Kelly (D - Baltimore County). President Pro Tem Nathaniel McFadden added, "This is not one of the high points" of the Maryland Senate.

After about an hour of tumoil on the Senate floor, Senator EJ Pipkin (R - Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's & Caroline) move to recomit the bill back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The motion to recomit failed on a tie vote of 23 to 23.

When the next amendment was offered by Senator David Harrington (D - Prince George's), a motion was made by Senator Pipkin to lay the amendment over with the bill under the rules. During the first 80 days of session, a motion to lay over until the next day is automatic.

The Senate recessed and will re-convene to continue the death penalty floor action at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Copies of the Senate votes on the amendments will be posted on our website www.mdsenategop.com later this evening.

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