Capitol Alert

Support the death penalty in California? Oppose it? You soon could get to vote on it

While Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended the death penalty, California lawmakers — and then voters — could get the chance to weigh in on ending it permanently.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, has introduced a constitutional amendment that would overturn past voter-approved initiatives allowing capital punishment.

His amendment reads, “The death penalty shall not be imposed as a punishment for any violations of law.”

The proposed amendment would have to be approved by two-thirds of both houses of the California Legislature, and then again by a majority of California voters in order to become law.

California would then become the 21st state to abolish the death penalty; the last state to do so was Washington in 2018.

Californians last had a chance to abolish the death penalty with Proposition 62 in 2016. Almost 54 percent of voters rejected the initiative that would prohibited capital punishment in the state.

That same year, 51.9 percent voters approved Proposition 66, which was intended to speed up executions.

As of Tuesday, when Newsom announced his moratorium on capital punishment, California became one of four states where the death penalty is on the books but not carried out. The other three states with moratoria include Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania, according to the website Death Penalty Information Center.

In addition to putting a stay on all executions, Newsom issued a reprieve, though not a pardon, to all 737 people sitting on death row.

The governor’s decision drew praise from some lawmakers and condemnation from others, largely along party lines.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, called Newsom’s move “an important first step in what will certainly be a long process but it is the right thing to do.”

Former Senate Republican Leader Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said she was disappointed in Newsom’s decision and that “handing out unearned reprieves will only add to the pain felt by many of the victims’ relatives.”

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.