Gov. Martin O'Malley delivers his speech before the Maryland general assembly during his State of the State address in Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The Maryland Senate voted 27-20 Wednesday to approve a measure that would abolish capital punishment.
The vote pushed the death penalty ban over a hurdle that blocked Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's repeal efforts in 2009. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates, where supporters were confident they have the votes to pass it.
However, lawmakers who support the death penalty said voters will likely decide the issue in 2014, because they expect citizens will petition the issue to the ballot.
Still, the vote marked a victory for O'Malley, who has worked to ban capital punishment since shortly after he became governor in 2007.
Maryland would become the 18th state to ban the death penalty. Connecticut banned it last year. Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York also have banned capital punishment in recent years.
Maryland has five men on death row, but the pending measure would permit the governor to commute their sentences to life in prison without possibility of parole.
The state's last execution took place in 2005, during the administration of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich. Ehrlich resumed executions after a moratorium had been in place pending a 2003 University of Maryland study, which found significant racial and geographic disparity in how the death penalty was carried out. Two executions took place during Ehrlich's term.
Capital punishment was put on hold after a December 2006 ruling by Maryland's highest court that the state's lethal injection protocols weren't properly approved by a legislative committee. The committee has yet to sign off on protocols.
Not long after the court ruling, O'Malley expressed support for repeal legislation. Legislation stalled in the state Senate in 2007. In 2008, lawmakers created a commission to study capital punishment after repeal efforts failed again. The panel recommended repeal later that year, citing racial and jurisdictional disparities in how the death penalty is used.
O'Malley followed through on the panel's recommendation in 2009. But legislation for full repeal again stalled in the state Senate. At the time, senators agreed to a compromise measure to limit the death penalty to murder cases with biological evidence such as DNA, videotaped evidence of a murder or a videotaped confession.