By Maria Wiering
ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Catholic Conference was optimistic a bill to repeal Maryland’s death penalty would soon pass the Senate, its Executive Director Mary Ellen Russell said March 5. The bill (SB 276) passed Feb. 21 out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where a similar bill has been mired in recent sessions.
Advocates for public policy issues on behalf of the state’s bishops, the MCC has teamed with state and national organizations to prioritize the end of capital punishment in the state during this legislative session.
“We are very, very encouraged,” Russell said. “We’re very optimistic about the vote on the final bill.”
The bill has been amended to remove a measure supported by the MCC that would have established a fund for victims of violent crime. However, attempts to amend the bill to uphold the death penalty in certain instances were defeated March 4.
Meanwhile, another controversial bill has taken center stage. The Senate passed legislation Feb. 28 to regulate firearms and ammunition (SB 281), and it is now before a House committee. The MCC champions “sensible efforts to curb gun violence” and supports the advancing bill, which was introduced at the request of Gov. Martin J. O’Malley.
In partnership with the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the MCC urged Catholics to attend an Annapolis rally for the legislation March 1.
With a month remaining before the end of the legislative session April 8, the MCC is also working to advance legislation related to education, pro-life issues and social concerns.
School Sister of Notre Dame Margaret Juskelis, president of Mother Seton Academy in Baltimore, and two of the school’s students testified Feb. 28 on the importance of maintaining funding for the Nonpublic Student Textbook Program in the state budget. As proposed by O’Malley, the budget includes $5.54 million for nonpublic textbooks and technology, a $1.14 million increase over last year’s funding.
The funding is equivalent to $57 per student, an amount the MCC would like to see rise in future years. Maryland lags behind other states in financial support for nonpublic education, Russell said. New York, for example, distributes $180.4 million for nonpublic school students, or $369 per student, according to the MCC.
Committees in the House and Senate also held hearings on a bill funding sickle cell disease research using bone marrow or umbilical cord transplants (SB 384/HB 726) and legislation that would require the state-funded Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund to publish research results in an annual report (SB 368/HB 779). Nancy Paltell, MCC associate director for respect for life, testified in support of both bills.
The bills bolster the MCC’s efforts to support state funding for medical research and treatments using adult stem cells, as opposed to embryonic stem cells, which involve the destruction of human embryos, Russell said.
The MCC testified in opposition to legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity (SB 449), in support of legislation expanding employers’ obligation to provide employees sick leave (SB 698/HB 735), and in support of legislation that requires the state’s fair housing policy to prohibit discrimination based on a person’s source of income (SB 487).
The legislative session is moving “very quickly,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of positive energy, especially on repealing the death penalty, and we hope that the church’s prominent voice on that issue resonates in terms of our deep commitment to protecting life from the moment of conception to natural death.”
March 5, 2013 CatholicReview.org