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Posted at 12:18 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

House passes bill altering parole rules

By John Wagner

The Maryland House of Delegates narrowly passed a bill Tuesday morning designed to force the governor's hand on languishing parole recommendations for eligible inmates serving life sentences.

There are at least 49 inmates with life sentences awaiting a decision from Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) after receiving a positive recommendation from the Parole Commission, according to legislative staff.

Under the bill, which passed 74 to 66, inmates who have served at least 25 years and receive positive recommendations would be granted parole if the governor does not act within 90 days.

Supporters said the new procedure would keep governors from sitting on parole decisions for political reasons and restore meaning to sentences of "life with the possibility of parole."

Opponents said it would instead result in more murderers and rapists going free, predicting that governors would duck responsibility for decisions made by the Parole Commission.

"This is a murderer's benevolence act," said Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County).

Del. Luis R.S. Simmons (D-Mongtomery) argued that the bill would actually make the governor more accountable because it would force him to make a decision within 90 days.

"If you support accountability, you're going to vote for this bill," Simmons said.

Other supporters argued that the governor is not required to sign off on parole recommendations in most other states.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

Asked for the governor's view, a spokesman for O'Malley said he is reviewing the legislation.

By John Wagner  | March 8, 2011; 12:18 PM ET
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