Senator suggests deal on death penalty measure

A new wrinkle in the death penalty debate emerged in the General Assembly yesterday when a state senator said he would vote to move a repeal bill out of the committee where it has been bottled up for several years.

But the lawmaker, Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, also wants the committee to move a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Both bills are stalled in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has made abolition of Maryland's death penalty a personal crusade, and opponents of capital punishment have eyed Simonaire as a potential swing vote to spring the repeal bill from the committee.

Though Simonaire has voted against the bill in the past, the Anne Arundel County Republican said that he would keep an open mind this year after a state commission found flaws in the system.

Some lawmakers have argued that all senators should be allowed to debate the death penalty, and opponents have focused on that chamber because many believe that they have the votes to get a bill out of the House of Delegates committee with jurisdiction.

"People are making a compelling argument to me that we need to do this, and I understand that, but we shouldn't pick and choose which logic we apply that to," Simonaire said. "Basically, what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

Simonaire's proposed trade-off, however, is not likely to be embraced. The deal would force Democrats to advance the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, which many oppose.

And several Democrats on the panel, including Chairman Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, said that the two issues should be debated on their own merits.

"It's clever and interesting, but I wouldn't support something like that in any way," said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat who has sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty.

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

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