The Maryland Senate moved a little closer to a majority willing to vote for full repeal of the death penalty Friday as 21 senators -- four more than last year -- agreed to co-sponsor the legislation in that chamber.
This year the bill also has the full-fledged support of Gov. Martin O'Malley, improving its chances of prevailing and moving over to the House of Delegates.
Twenty-four votes are needed to pass a bill in the Senate. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has said he believes there is a majority in favor of repeal in his chamber and that he can round up the 29 votes to stop a filibuster. Though he opposes repeal, Miller has said he will bring the bill to the floor this year if the votes are there.
According to a documents obtained by The Sun, the four senators who signed on as co-sponsors this year, but not last, are Democrats James Rosapepe, J. J. Douglas Peters and C. Anthony Muse of Prince George's County and Jennie Forehand of Montgomery County.
A 22nd senator, Republican Minority Whip Edward R. Reilly of Anne Arundel County, is a death penalty opponent who has said he will vote for repeal but not sign on as a co-sponsor. Death penalty opponents are also hoping to persuade Sen. James E. "Ed" DeGrange, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who was a co-sponsor two years ago, to get aboard. DeGrange said Friday that he was undecided on both sponsorship and how he would vote though he described himself as "pro-life" on the issue.
Repeal backers are looking to a group of about four or five swing voters to put them over the top. But before they can celebrate victory, proponents will have to hold their votes together for full repeal in the face of a flurry of proposed amendments trying to carve out exceptions such as the killing of a correctional officer by a prison inmate. Co-sponsors are not bound to vote against all amendments, or even for the bill itself. So there will be plenty of suspense when and if it comes to the floor.
If the bill clears the Senate, it will go to the House, where repeal proponents believe they would muster a majority.