Maryland supporters of the D.C. voting rights amendment, who fell one vote short this year of ratifying the measure in the state legislature, fear that the chances for passage next year have evaporated before the session begins.
Legislative leaders said this week that opposition to the amendment among state delegates, who failed to pass it last year in three separate votes, has hardened during the past months and a number of former supporters are considering switching their votes.
"I don't see it being a high priority of anyone," said House Majority Leader Donald B. Robertson (D-Montgomery), who supports the amendment. "The bloom is off the rose this year -- the push for passage has lost the initial momentum. A number of people who voted for it are now questioning the wisdom of it."
Some of the losses are legislators who felt pressured to vote for the amendment in the first highly publicized rush for passage and who now have changed their minds.
But the voting rights backers also fear that other former supporters, particularly liberal Jewish legislators, have been antagonized by D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy's meetings this fall with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Fauntroy, one of the most prominent backers of the amendment, was part of a delegation of blacks who flew to the Middle East to meet Arab leaders after U.N. ambassador Andrew Young resigned under fire for meeting secretly with a PLO representative.
As a result of the eroding support, efforts to pass the amendment during the 1980 session are expected to be modest, with the measure largely being ignored as legislative leaders focus on fiscal and transportation issues, some supporters said this week.
Voting rights proponents in the state Senate already have filed a resolution to ratify the amendment and say they are hoping to force a vote early in the session to prevent a possible filibuster.
The resolution's sponsors, including Sen. S. Frank Shore (D-Montgomery) and several black senators from the Washington suburbs and Baltimore, say they are confident of winning in the Senate, where the amendment passed by a 26-21 vote last year.
But it is in the 141-member House of Delegates that the amendment must win new votes, and it is there that votes seemed to have changed in recent months.
Last year, the amendment was opposed by a number of delegates, including some from the local area, who feared its passage would lead to a suburban commuter tax imposed by Congress.
Others opposed the bill for philosophical reasons, arguing that the District of Columbia was not a state, but a unique political structure already receiving special attention from the federal government.
So far, the amendment has yet to gain a sponsor in the House.
"I think I'll just wait for it to come over from the Senate," said Del. Charles M. Blumenthal (D-Prince George's), last year's chief sponsor. "It may not be filed in the House."
"There has been some damage done to it by Fauntroy's dealings with the PLO," Blumenthal said. "It has turned several members off. So we have the personal problem of Fauntroy, who has been recognized as a leader of the amendment and immediate beneficiary of it."
Another problem, legislative leaders said, has been the lack of any real lobbying effort for the bill during the last year.
"I haven't been aware of any presence by the groups that were theoretically organized to push the amendment," said Del. Helen Koss (D-Montgomery), the chairman of the House committee that would consider the measure.
"A lot of people felt pressured to vote for it last year that don't necessarily feel that way now," Koss said. "If more votes were going to be picked up, the groundwork should have been laid last summer, and it wasn't."
"It could end up on the back burner this year," said Sen. Melvin Steinberg (D-Baltimore County), who has switched his vote from "yes" to "undecided" since last year. "There are too many other priorities that have to take precedence. No one is pushing it all that hard."
The votings rights amendment is scheduled to come up for hearings before the Senate Constitutional and Public Law Committee during the first week of the legislative session in January.