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Md. General Assembly strips governor of parole decisions

The General Assembly has stripped Maryland governors of having the final say in parole decisions for inmates sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The House of Delegates voted 92-46 Tuesday night to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the measure giving the appointed Parole Commission the final decision regarding parole. The House vote followed the Senate’s 31-16 tally on Monday to override the governor’s veto.

The House requires 85 yes votes for an override, while the Senate requires 29.

Prior to Senate Bill 202’s enactment, the 10-member board’s authority was limited to making recommendations of parole to the governor. Now, parole will be granted if six of the panel’s 10 members vote for approval.

The measure also enables life-sentenced inmates to be eligible for parole after serving 20 years in prison, which could be reduced to 17 and a half years with good behavior credits.

Hogan had vetoed the measure in May, calling it “nothing more than an unfounded and unnecessary power grab and another instance of the legislative branch seeking to diminish the authority of the governor.”

Hogan added he was the first governor in more than 20 years to have paroled an inmate sentenced to life in prison. In all, Hogan said, he has granted 34 paroles and commuted 23 life sentences.

But supporters of SB 202 said the measure will ensure that inmates sentenced to life would have a meaningful opportunity for parole by obviating the political risk a governor would run by releasing a convicted killer. Politicians’ fear of making a career-killing move makes denial of parole virtually certain in all cases, supporters said.

“Injecting politics into the parole process has wrongly turned life with parole sentences into life sentences,” Yanet Amanuel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland’s interim public policy director, said in a statement after the override. “We’re extremely pleased to see that both the chambers have focused on the facts of the issue, prioritized second chances that these folks have earned, and rejected the misguided tough on crime propaganda that historically has not led to effective crime and violence reducing strategies.”

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, was the chief sponsor of SB 202.