An East Bay lawmaker said Monday she'll introduce a bill which, if passed and then approved by voters, would abolish California's death penalty.
The forthcoming bill from state Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, would convert already-condemned inmates' sentences to life in prison without possibility of parole.
"Capital punishment is an expensive failure and an example of the dysfunction of our prisons," Hancock, who also chairs the budget subcommittee that oversees prison spending, said in a news release. "California's death row is the largest and most costly in the United States. It is not helping to protect our state; it is helping to bankrupt us."
California now has 714 people on death row but has executed only 13 since reinstating its death penalty in 1978. Yet taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on death penalty proceedings during that time, according to a report -- first reported by the Los Angeles Times -- that Hancock cited Monday, and that price tag will rise to $9 billion by 2030.
"Study after study has shown that capital punishment as a penalty is not a deterrent and that the multiple appeals that drag on for years and years multiply costs and add to the uncertainty and anxiety of victims," Hancock said. "The death penalty failings cannot be fixed; it must be repealed. It is time for the Legislature to act."
It's not just a cost issue, she added: Illinois wrongly executed more than a dozen people before it abolished capital punishment earlier this year. "I don't want to see that kind of tragic statistic in California."
Getting the bill past the Democrat-dominated Legislature might be possible, and Gov. Jerry Brown last year said he would "prefer a society that didn't have to use the death penalty."
Convincing voters could be much harder. A Field Poll conducted a year ago found 70 percent of California voters support capital punishment, up from 67 percent in 2006; this support cut across age, gender, racial, religious and party lines. The survey had a 2.8 percentage point margin of error.
However, a subsample of that same poll found that if given a choice, about as many voters would personally opt to impose a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole -- 42 percent -- as would choose the death penalty -- 41 percent -- for someone convicted of first-degree murder. This subsample had a 4.6 percentage point margin of error.