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California Death Penalty Bill Dies Before Even Coming To A Vote

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A bill in the California State Senate that would eliminate the death penalty has been killed before it ever had the chance to come to a vote.

Sponsored by Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), SB 490 would have put the option of getting rid of California's death penalty on the November 2012 ballot. Crimes previously meriting the death penalty would have then been punished by life without parole.

In the face of political realities in the state legislature, Hancock has withdrawn the bill. The Bellingham Herald reports:

"The votes were not there to support reforming California's expensive and dysfunctional death penalty system," Hancock said in a written statement.

"I had hoped we would take the opportunity to save hundreds of millions of dollars that could be used to support our schools and universities, keep police on our streets and fund essential public institutions like the courts," she said.

Hancock was unable to secure the nine votes needed to move her bill out of the out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee and onto the floor of the senate for a full vote.

Even though Hancock's bill failed, it doesn't necessarily mean that voters won't soon have the chance to weigh in on the state's use of the death penalty. The Los Angels Times reports:

Taxpayers for Justice, a coalition of death penalty foes galvanized by the spiraling costs of keeping execution as a sentencing option, immediately announced a citizens initiative aimed for the November 2012 ballot.

Civil rights groups have been attempting to call attention to the costs of the death penalty for years. That message gained traction in June with the release of a comprehensive study by a federal judge and a law professor showing that taxpayers have spent $4 billion over the last three decades to carry out only 13 executions.

Governor Jerry Brown, who vetoed a bill allowing the death penalty when he was governor in the 1970s, declined to comment directly on SB 490's failure; however, he seemed to support putting the death penalty issue before the voters. "In general, I've said as a principle, that when we have deep, troublesome issues that create gridlock in the Legislature, going back to the people could be a way to break the gridlock," Brown told the Associated Press during a press conference detailing his new jobs plan.

A 2010 Field Poll showed that 70 percent of Californians support the death penalty.

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Filed by Aaron Sankin