Bitter division over whether to allow state spending on embryonic stem cell research could add drama on the Maryland General Assembly's final day of work today, as that provision and a host of other contentious measures have their final shot at legislative approval.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has indicated that he might allow debate on the bill even though he is not sure he could break a threatened filibuster by Republicans and conservative Democrats.
Advocates for the bill were heartened over the weekend to hear Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R) voice support for the research during a radio interview.
"I support stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research," Ehrlich said Saturday on a WBAL program in Baltimore.
Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell later said that the governor's comments should not be taken as support for any bill pending in the legislature and that Ehrlich is reserving judgment until legislation reaches his desk.
The prospect of a filibuster will be nerve-wracking for any legislator who has an unresolved bill in play, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said yesterday.
"Every piece of legislation is put in jeopardy," Busch said. "But that's all part of the last-day dynamics."
At midnight tonight, every bill that has not been passed in identical form by both chambers will die. The next scheduled meeting of the legislature is in January.
Busch said the most contentious matter in his chamber is a proposal to add a line to the state Constitution that would require the governor to get legislative approval before selling state parkland.
Some Republicans have opposed the amendment, which would have to be ratified by voters on the November 2006 ballot, when Ehrlich stands for reelection.
They accuse Democrats of pushing it to galvanize Election Day turnout of voters disenchanted with Ehrlich's land policy and to heighten focus on a controversial proposal, pushed by his administration, to sell 836 acres of St. Mary's County woodlands to a Baltimore business executive at a cut-rate price.
The vote had been scheduled for Saturday, but amending the constitution requires a three-fifths majority, and Busch said too many Democrats were absent to be certain it would pass.
Environmental advocate Dru Schmidt-Perkins said she is anxiously awaiting the vote because on the final day of action, any number of factors could derail legislation.
"I'm fairly confident that we have the votes to get it passed," she said yesterday. "We're going to work to ensure that the bill does not get mired down in some political situation that's unrelated."