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Bill to abolish death penalty in California advances

July 7, 2011 | 11:39 am

A proposal to ask California voters to repeal the death penalty was advanced Thursday by a state legislative panel after opponents of the current law argued it was an expensive and ineffective approach to violent crime.

The Assembly's Public Safety Committee approved legislation by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) that would put a measure on the ballot replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the state's most extreme punishment.

Hancock cited estimates that it costs the state $184 millon a year to keep more than 700 people on Death Row, and she noted that only 13 criminals have been executed in the last 33 years.

"The death penalty is not the swift and certain punishment that experts tell us most effectively deters crime,’’ Hancock told the committee before it voted 5-2 along party lines to approve SB 490. Those supporting the bill included Jeanne Woodford, executive director of the nonprofit group Death Penalty Focus and former warden of San Quentin State Prison,

Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) opposed the measure, saying the state should instead reform the system to "speed up the process." He said other states, such as Arizona, spend much less to enforce the death penalty. He also said there was a large cost in keeping inmates in prison for life. The bill next goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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