HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A push to abolish Connecticut’s death penalty is one step closer to becoming a reality after clearing a key legislative hurdle in the state Senate early Thursday morning.

WCBS 880’s Fran Schneidau reports

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The state Senate approved a repeal bill 20-16 early Thursday morning. It now goes to the House of Representatives, where lawmakers say the legislation has strong support.

Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said he was not surprised by the bill’s passage in the Senate. He said vote turned out exactly as he had expected.

“I think it is a pivotal step,” he said. “It moves us towards a more enlightened posture on the issue and puts us more in line with other New England states.”

The legislation would eliminate capital punishment for all future cases, but would not directly affect sentences of the 11 inmates currently on Connecticut’s death row.

The repeal bill would replace the death penalty for future cases with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release.

Additionally, the bill renames the capital felony charge as, “murder with special circumstances.” The charge would be reserved for individuals convicted of murdering two or more people at the same time, a person under age 16 or a person he or she has kidnapped, among other scenarios.

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But State Sen. John Kissel, who voted to keep the death penalty on the books, believes the bill forms a ground for their appeal.

“Our state supreme court will most likely look to this bill as evidence of an evolving standard of human decency and will cite it in an Eighth Amendment challenge to commute the sentences of death for the 11 folks on death row,” he told WCBS 880’s Fran Schneidau.

Kissel says that includes death row inmates Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes, convicted of the 2007 Petit family murders in Cheshire.

In a poll last month, Conn. voters said they did not want to see the state’s death penalty repealed, with 62 percent saying it would be a bad idea.

Connecticut has carried out only one execution in 51 years, when serial killer Michael Ross was administered lethal injection in 2005.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said if the bill passes, he would sign it into law.

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