Well, actually they haven't. With about two weeks left in the session and high initial hopes for some initiatives it looks like our political leaders have niftily avoided having to take a position on most majore issues.
The big issue, of course, was abolition of the death penalty in Maryland. The state has had an effective moratorium on executions since late 2006 when the Court of Appeals decided that the state's procedures for lethal injections (which had been used for some time) had not be 'properly adopted'. To resume executions, the state must adopt new regulations, but Governor O'Malley, who has pushed for abolition of the death penalty, is in no hurry to do so.
Last year, a proposal in the General Assembly to abolish the death penalty and substitute life imprisonment with parole failed by a single vote. There was high hope that this year our legislators would grit their teeth and take action on this issue.
But that was not to be. Rather than take the politically risky step of voting either for or agains the death penalty, our legislators, in their infinite wisdom voted to...establish a commission to study the issue! And best of all, the nineteen member commission won't have a lot of heavy lifting to do since, if they like they can simply photocopy the reports of the four previous commissions and studies.
So, by December 15, we'll have the report of the commission which will provide us all with food for thought and will be just in time for the next session of the General Assembly. Of course, abolishing the death penalty will be a big issue for that session and I'm looking forward to it. I'm guessing, though, that instead of wimping out and appointing a study commission next year, they'll wise up and recommend a blue-ribbon panel instead.
Governor O'Malley proposed this year that the state be granted authority to take DNA samples from those arrested for violent crimes. After considerable back and forth on the issue, the House of Delegates has passed a bill which allows DNA samples to be taken only when charges are bought and provides for automatic expungement of the DNA record if there's no conviction. It looks like this will pass, but it's not clear what the impact will be.
In other significant inaction, a bill to reduce penalties for low-level, non-violent drug dealers was withdrawn to avoid having to vote on it. Maryland, like many states, has mandatory minimum sentences for a a variety of drug crimes. These minimum sentences have filled Maryland's prisons to overflowing without doing anything to reduce the level of drug activity in Maryland.
The bill, as proposed, would have changed first-time, low volume and non-violent drug selling crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies and would have provided drug treatment for more of those convicted rather than incarceration. This makes sense because a) incarceration is expensive and does nothing to rehabilitate the person, and b) most of them are addicts who only sell drugs to support their habit. Studies have shown a big payoff for drug treatment programs in such cases, with reduced recidivism rates and lower cost to the taxpayers. Maryland district and circuit court judges support laws that will give them the option to order drug treatment rather than prison.
But, unfortunately, things that make sense don't always get the attention they deserve and we have to able to tell our constituents that we're 'tough on crime' rather than trying to find solutionsthat actually reduce the amount of crime. Perhaps next year we'll appoint a commission.
[ The illustration is a poster for the melodrama "Human Hearts" and was published in 1910]