Maryland’s General Assembly passed policy Monday night to remove the governor from the parole process for people serving life sentences, which many advocates say will depoliticize the process.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), is now in the hands of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R). Several iterations of this legislation have cycled through the General Assembly for years.
Currently, Maryland is one of three states to require its governor to approve parole recommendations before people serving life sentences can be conditionally released. The change would go into effect in October, if Hogan signs the bill or lets it be enacted without his signature. That would leave Arkansas and Hawaii as the last states to involve the governor in such decisions.
In lieu of Hogan’s signature on final parole decisions, the bill would require six of the 10 members of the Maryland Parole Commission to vote for parole.
Sen. Jill P. Carter, floor leader in the Senate for the bill, explained that the conference committee report clarified that anyone convicted of a life sentence after Oct. 1 must have served the equivalent of 20 years in prison, including credits that could shorten that time, before being considered for release.
Republicans struggled with this aspect of the bill, noting that, if diminution credits are added, there’s a possibility that someone could be paroled after serving 16.5 years.
Carter (D-Baltimore City) rebutted Republican arguments, saying that the bill’s original intent was to strictly remove the governor from the parole process, and that the conference committee chose to allow for diminution credits to be considered.
“I want to just reiterate, the bill was only to remove the governor from the process,” she said on the floor.
Although debate on the bill in the House was short-lived, House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) also was perturbed by the potential that someone incarcerated for first-degree murder could be out in under 20 years.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) clarified that the bill would extend the wait before an adult would become parole-eligible, even with diminution credits.
Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) pushed back, noting that the Juvenile Restoration Act, approved earlier this session, would create a disparity between adults and juveniles sentenced to life.
Under the Juvenile Restoration Act, people who are convicted of life sentences as minors will be eligible to have their sentences reconsidered after 20 years without any consideration of diminution credits.
“The bill that we have in front of us would say that if you’re a juvenile and commit first-degree murder, you have to serve 20 years, hard time,” he argued. “This bill in front of us says if you’re an adult and committed first-degree, premeditated murder, you’re eligible at 16 and a half years.”
“That is quite the, as we say, incongruity in the law,” Hough said.
SB 202 passed out of the House on a vote of 88-50, and the Senate 30-17.