State Sen. Lori Hancock (D-Berkeley) introduced a bill that would replace the death penalty with life, with no possibility of parole. Hancock said closing death row would save California taxpayers billions of dollars.
"We are spending $184 million a year on a death penalty fiction that actually rarely executes anyone and costs a fortune," said Hancock.
But a Republican opponent said that's not the issue.
"I don't think this is really about finance as it is about justice. I want to give those victims and their families the justice that they deserve," said state Sen. Joel Anderson (R-La Mesa).
Hancock's bill, SB490, is scheduled for its first hearing July 5 in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
If the bill passes and is signed by the governor, voters would have to approve it as an initiative on the November 2012 ballot.
There are 714 California inmates now awaiting execution. That's nearly twice the number than in Florida, the state with the next largest death row population, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.
On average, executions take 20 years to carry out from the time of sentencing. No one has been put to death in California since 2006 because of an ongoing legal challenge to how the state carries out executions by lethal injection and, more recently, a shortage of execution drugs.
Of inmates who had been awaiting execution, 78 have died of suicide or natural causes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.