ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland Senate president said he expects voters to decide whether to repeal the death penalty.

"I am certain that it would be petitioned to referendum if it passes" the General Assembly, said Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Striking down the state's ultimate punishment has been a priority of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and House Speaker Mike Busch, D-Anne Arundel County.

Despite the push to end the state's death penalty, Maryland has executed five inmates in the last 50 years and hasn't put to death any prisoners since 2005. The state executed one person in 2004, but the most recent execution before that was in 1998.

Maryland currently has five people on death row, but there is a de facto moratorium on the death penalty as the O'Malley administration hasn't put into place the protocols to carry it out.

Miller made his remarks on a Baltimore radio talk show hours before the Maryland General Assembly was sworn in for its 2013 session.

Miller, who was sworn in as Senate president for a record 26th time, said he believes a repeal would pass his chamber if the governor uses his "persuasive techniques" and would get through the House as well.

But, he said he believes opponents would put a petition to block it on the 2014 ballot.

O'Malley said he was confident Marylanders would uphold the repeal if it made it onto the ballot.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said the fact that Maryland hasn't executed anyone since 2005 doesn't mean the state should do away with the punishment.

He said politicians change and the right people could come into office to put the protocols in place to resume capital punishment.

A voter referendum on the death penalty in 2014 would be the next in a spate of recent voter efforts to reject legislation passed and signed into law.

Marylanders upheld three measures that opponents attempted to overturn on the 2012 ballot, including the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Dream Act that grants in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions and Maryland's controversial new map of state legislative districts.

They were the first such referendums in 20 years. Shortly after the 2012 election, the governor and legislative leaders expressed interest in changing the referendum process, saying it was probably too easy to put measures before voters.