So, where are the votes? A Washington Post count suggests that the legislation — a long-stymied objective for O’Malley — could become one of the most dramatic to play out in the 90 days of the General Assembly session.
The Post identified 23 likely Senate votes for a repeal bill, one short of passage. But an additional four members have said they would consider supporting O’Malley-backed legislation, which is also a priority this session for the NAACP and the Catholic Church.
“I think the numbers are very close to a majority, if not already there,” O’Malley (D) told reporters Tuesday as he arrived at an annual pre-session luncheon sponsored by the Maryland Democratic Party.
The governor renewed his criticism of capital punishment, saying, “You shouldn’t do things that are expensive and don’t work.”
But O’Malley stopped short of saying whether he would sponsor a repeal bill this session, a move that would almost certainly increase the chances of nailing down wavering votes, proponents say. “It doesn’t become a priority for the General Assembly unless the governor strongly supports the bill and pushes for it,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Repeal activists say that support for the bill is stronger in the House of Delegates, making the Senate the primary battleground.
O’Malley has announced several other priorities this year, including jump-starting the wind power industry and advancing gun-control measures that came to the fore after last month’s mass shootings in Newtown, Conn. He told the luncheon audience that he wants to do what he can to avert “the insanity of the sort of carnage we saw in Connecticut.”
But some lawmakers have suggested that the Connecticut massacre could complicate efforts to repeal the death penalty because it highlights the type of killer who they believe should be eligible for execution.
O’Malley also told reporters Tuesday that he will “probably” introduce another bill this year to increase transportation funding. A bill he sponsored last year to apply the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline went nowhere.
O’Malley is scheduled to unveil his package of initiatives Jan. 17.
The death penalty debate comes at a time when Maryland has not executed a prisoner since 2005, when Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) was governor. There are five people on death row in the state.
In December 2006, during Ehrlich’s last full month in office, the Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s procedures for the death penalty had not been properly adopted, and executions were halted until new regulations could be issued by the administration.