- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday the state Senate is within two votes of approving a ban on capital punishment in Maryland, and the governor underscored that job creation and transportation funding concerns will be top priorities in the legislative session.

By most counts, Mr. O'Malley said, 22 of the 24 senators needed to approve a death penalty ban have expressed a willingness to support a ban in the session that begins Wednesday.

“And I think it’s very possible that there are two more senators that would vote to repeal,” Mr. O’Malley added, speaking to reporters after an annual lunch with Maryland Democrats.

The Democratic governor pushed to repeal the death penalty in 2009. Full repeal stalled in the Senate, which opted to restrict capital punishment to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said in an interview this week that repeal is within one vote on the committee and a vote or two in the full Senate.

“It’s close,” said Mr. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat who supports repeal. He added that he thinks this is a good year to push for it.

Sen. James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrat who is on the Judicial Proceedings Committee and supports capital punishment, said this week he would not be changing his position.

“I don’t see any reason to repeal the death penalty,” Mr. Brochin said in an interview Monday.

The governor declined to say at this point whether he will make repeal a key part of his legislative agenda. Still, Mr. O'Malley clearly would like to see capital punishment banned. There hasn’t been an execution in Maryland during Mr. O'Malley’s tenure, which began in 2007.

“I’m confident that eventually it will be repealed,” Mr. O'Malley said. “I’d like to see it repealed sooner rather than later, and if I could help bring that about that would certainly be a positive thing.”

On a separate issue, Mr. O'Malley pledged to put a spotlight on a series of transportation funding problems in the state.

“For the last 10 or 15 years, we have not been investing what we could and what we should in order to have better transportation in our state,” Mr. O'Malley said. “Therefore, we now have the most congested state, in terms of traffic, of any of the 50 states in the country.”

The debate promises to be a spirited one, with Republicans from rural areas opposing big spending on mass transit in urban and suburban areas — at the expense of roads in rural communities.

“Clearly, we need to have the discussion first between mass transit and roads,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Cecil Republican. “Right now, the layout is such that a significant amount of the dollars go toward mass transit and starve the road budget.”

Mr. O'Malley said he had not settled on a particular proposal to raise more revenue. Last year, he proposed phasing in a 6 percent sales tax on gasoline at 2 percent a year, but the measure stalled. The governor also said he saw merit in raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, and dedicating the increase to transportation.

Mr. O'Malley did not embrace the concept of taking a regional approach to paying for transportation infrastructure.

Lawmakers also are expected to grapple with gun-control legislation this year in response to last month’s massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

“We will debate protecting our children from the insanity of the sort of carnage we saw in Connecticut,” Mr. O’Malley told a room full of the state’s leading Democrats during their annual luncheon.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said the focus on preventing an event like the one that happened in Newtown will be on multiple fronts, including a review of the state’s gun laws. He also said lawmakers will focus on mental health facilities and school safety.