The House advanced a bill to repeal the death penalty Wednesday night, leaving only a final vote between the bill and the governor’s desk.
After voting down 18 amendments, most offered by Republicans to carve out exceptions to the repeal, the House gave the proposal preliminary approval by a voice vote.
The House is expected to take a final vote Friday on the measure, which would make the ultimate penalty in Maryland life without parole.
The amendments offered to keep the death penalty in some circumstances — including when an officer is murdered in the line of duty, when a child is raped and murdered, or when an act of terrorism kills 1,000 people or more — were defeated by wide margins, most by more than 20 votes.
“I think we can agree that you can’t have a partial repeal of the death penalty,” said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Dist. 41) of Baltimore.
The effort to repeal the death penalty in Maryland has been going on for about a decade, and this year the bill was championed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
The Senate passed the repeal March 6, where it was considered a heavier lift. The House has passed a repeal in previous years.
Five men remain on death row, and O’Malley has said he will decide what to do in each case — whether to commute sentences or leave the men on death row — should the repeal pass.
The state’s last execution occurred Dec. 5, 2005, when Wesley Eugene Baker was executed for the murder of Jane Tyson in Catonsville. In 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the procedure for state executions was unconstitutional and new protocols would need to be adopted.
Some lawmakers have predicted that the repeal will be petitioned to referendum, where Maryland voters will decide its fate. According to a poll released Wednesday by Goucher College, 51 percent of Marylanders favor keeping it on the books. Forty-three percent of respondents were in favor of repeal.
Originally, the governor’s bill allocated $500,000 to a fund for victims of violent crime, from savings predicted to come from the Office of the Public Defender no longer prosecuting lengthy death penalty cases.
But some said that the appropriation would have made the repeal referendum-proof: The Maryland constitution does not allow appropriation bills to be petitioned to the ballot for voter approval, so the language was amended out of the bill, and O’Malley pledged to put $500,000 in the victims’ fund should the bill pass.