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Md. Stem Cell Bill's Last Gasp

Hughes had stepped forward early in the debate, as honorary chairman of a loose coalition of advocates called Families for Stem Cell Research in Maryland.

Dyson would also get a call from Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), a former state Senate president, asking if he would consider voting to cut off debate. Dyson said he ultimately concluded he could not do that, given that a majority vote to pass the legislation would probably follow. "That would be tantamount to allowing it to happen," he said.

Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D) said she'll sponsor another bill for stem-cell research next year.

Dyson said the pope's death was also weighing on him. In church on the Sunday after the death, Dyson's priest asked parishioners to pray for the senator and other lawmakers who would be participating in a filibuster against the stem cell bill.

The request was part of a coordinated effort by the Maryland Catholic Conference, which helped steer thousands of e-mails and letters to lawmakers from residents opposed to the legislation.

Advocates for the bill also had no luck persuading DeGrange and Sen. John Giannetti (Prince George's) to vote with fellow Democrats to close off a filibuster.

On the final day of the session, the coalition lobbying for the bill ran radio ads on WBAL in Baltimore as part of a last-ditch effort to persuade two Howard County Republican senators, Allan H. Kittleman and Sandra B. Schrader, to break with their party and allow an up-or-down vote. Both had supported the bill at the committee level.

"Tell them not to deny hope to thousands of Maryland families," the ad said .

Kittleman, a freshman senator, said that he remains convinced that the research is needed but that he was not willing to buck his party.

"As a Republican in a legislature that is overwhelmingly Democratic, one of the few tools the minority has is the filibuster," he said. "One day, I may need my colleagues to back me on one."

Looming in the background for Republicans was Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who had taken no public position on the legislation. It was clear, however, that the governor did not want the bill on his desk, said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset).

Ehrlich muddied the waters last Saturday, two days before the session ended, when he said during a radio interview that he supported embryonic stem cell research. A spokesman quickly clarified that the governor was not voicing support for the bill, and the declaration seemed to have no effect on the outcome of the debate.

Both Hollinger and the Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), the bill's lead sponsor in the House, have promised that they will be back with another bill and a stronger lobbying effort next year. Opponents say they'll be ready.

"Frankly, I think this is far from over," said Gina C. Maclean, a spokeswoman for the Catholic conference. "The Church will not waver on the idea that embryonic stem cell research is wrong."

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