Felons who have completed their sentences will be able to register to vote in Maryland under a new law signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday.

The law, which takes effect July 1, was one of 178 measures the governor signed, including legislation to require stricter emissions limits on new cars and protect the diamondback terrapin.

Advocates say more than 50,000 Marylanders will be eligible to vote as a result of the legislation. Thirty-eight other states allow ex-convicts who have completed their sentences – including any parole or probation – to vote. But the Maryland legislation was among the most hotly debated bills in the recent General Assembly session.

“It certainly doesn’t mean the floodgates are going to open, but this underscores the full meaning of citizenship,” said Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt, a Prince George’s County Democrat who was a sponsor of the measure. “When you have paid your debt to society … you should be free to register to vote.”