Last week, the Senate's 10 black members sent a letter to the governor pledging their help in the repeal effort, based on findings that the death penalty is racially biased. O'Malley's bill has 14 co-sponsors, including several of the black senators.
Others, including Sen. Richard F. Colburn, an Eastern Shore Republican, see capital punishment as a necessary tool for use in the most heinous of crimes. "My only problem with the death penalty is that we don't use it enough," he said.
Five men have been executed in Maryland since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978, and another five remain on death row. State executions have been under an effective moratorium since December 2006, when Maryland's highest court ruled that lethal injection regulations had not been properly adopted. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is still revising protocols.
Some senators, when asked whether they would support a repeal, gave tepid responses. Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said he was leaning toward voting against it but was considering the issue and reviewing data. Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a Montgomery County Democrat, said she was "leaning toward" voting in favor of a repeal.
The survey's tight result means that death penalty opponents could be thwarted by a filibuster on the Senate floor. It would take 29 senators to stop debate. Though he is a staunch supporter of the death penalty, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat who represents Calvert and Prince George's counties, said he would oppose any filibuster that would tie up the business of the Senate.
On the House side, Speaker Michael E. Busch says enough delegates want an end to capital punishment that O'Malley's bill should pass that chamber without trouble. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, has historically supported the death penalty but said through a spokeswoman that the repeal "deserves strong consideration."
Even if a repeal makes it through the General Assembly, the issue could ultimately be decided by voters. In Maryland, residents can attempt to overturn acts of the General Assembly by gathering about 53,000 signatures for a ballot question.
A poll this year showed that more than half of Marylanders support the death penalty.
O'Malley has also raised the possibility of asking voters to decide the issue if his legislative efforts fail this year, through a constitutional amendment similar to last year's slots vote.
Death penalty opponents and proponents are assembling teams of people to testify tomorrow. In addition to O'Malley and Civiletti, several other commission members are expected to advocate a repeal.
On the other side of the issue, Baltimore State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, who wrote the commission's dissenting opinion, said he will testify. Several relatives of murder victims are expected to make a plea to retain capital punishment.
Yesterday morning, at the African Methodist Episcopal Church's legislative conference, O'Malley urged the audience of about 300 churchgoers and other participants to lobby their legislators.
"I think we're close," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.
state senate survey
Question: Would you be inclined to vote in favor of a full repeal of the death penalty?
(Members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee are in boldface.)