Effort to end California death penalty in 2016 cleared to collect signatures

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SACRAMENTO, California — Death penalty opponents led by former "M-A-S-H" star Mike Farrell can begin collecting signatures for their latest attempt to repeal the ultimate penalty, increasing the chances that California voters will be faced with a choice between competing initiatives next year.

The secretary of state's office said Friday that backers have until May 17 to gather nearly 366,000 signatures if the measure is to appear on the November 2016 general election ballot.

Death penalty supporters, meanwhile, are attempting to gather enough signatures for their proposal to speed up executions by providing more appellate lawyers and speedier appeals. That campaign was announced earlier this month by several prosecutors, police officers and family members of victims.

More than 900 killers have been sentenced to die in the most populous state since the death penalty was restored in 1978, but just 13 have been executed. No one has been executed in California since 2006, when a federal judge forced a still-ongoing review of the state's lethal injection procedures.

The opponents' measure would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. It would apply retroactively to those already on death row.

A similar proposal failed by 4 percentage points in 2012, but Farrell said the revised proposal has a better chance.

It would require murderers given life sentences to work in prison, with 60 percent of their wages going to victim restitution.

"That does make a difference to people," Farrell said in telephone interview. "People are not simply getting away with something, but in fact are going to pay for what they've done both with their lives and working to offer some compensation."

Moreover, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst and state finance director project the measure could save state and local governments about $150 million annually. That contrasts with the previous attempt in 2012 where the projected savings were offset by a provision sending money to law enforcement agencies, a change Farrell said could draw more support.

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