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Miller Says He Wants to Give Bill a Chance

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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said yesterday that he plans to accommodate Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) by allowing at least some consideration by the full Senate of a bill to repeal Maryland's death penalty but that he thinks the legislation is unlikely to pass.

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The concession was the latest move in a political struggle playing out between two of Annapolis's most powerful personalities over one of the most divisive issues facing the legislature this year.

O'Malley again called for passage of the bill, one of his leading priorities, during a prayer breakfast and rally with religious leaders yesterday, saying it deserved an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor -- something that has not happened since his arrival two years ago.

"There is not a doubt in my mind that the death penalty is inconsistent with the most important beliefs we share . . . as children of one God," O'Malley told more than 100 people at the prayer breakfast, who later joined him in marching down a major street in Annapolis's historic district to a rally site near the State House.

Similar legislation seeking to repeal the death penalty has been derailed each of the past two years by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which Miller is pressing to vote on O'Malley's bill this week.

Miller, a gregarious lawyer who supports the death penalty, said that he wants to see how the committee votes but that he also wants "to give the governor and his proponents his day on the floor," even if that requires bending Senate rules.

There are several ways the bill could advance to the floor, at least briefly, without approval by the committee.

Aides to Miller, who has presided over his chamber for more than two decades, said that under one scenario, Miller would allow a debate over whether the full Senate should replace an "unfavorable" recommendation by the committee with a "favorable" recommendation. Such a motion, which is rarely utilized, requires a majority vote of the 47-member chamber.

Even if the bill cleared that procedural hurdle, it would be subject to a filibuster, which takes three-fifths of the chamber, or 29 senators, to break. O'Malley said yesterday that he thinks a majority of senators will support the repeal bill if given the chance and that he thinks he could find "29 decent men and women to agree not to obstruct this."

Miller and other repeal opponents have suggested the votes are not there this year.

Repeal supporters have also contemplated sending the bill to the floor without a recommendation on its merits, a rarely employed maneuver. But Miller made clear this week that he disapproves of that option.

A third option would be for supporters to petition the bill out of the committee to the floor. That process takes only 16 signatures. Once the bill reached the floor, however, a majority of members could vote to send the bill back to committee.

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