California Moves Ahead On `Three Strikes' Anticrime Legislation

THE California legislature has approved one bill that would impose life sentences on habitual felons - which Gov. Pete Wilson (R) says he will sign into law as early as today - and delayed action on four others.

The so-called ``three strikes and you're out'' laws mandate life sentences for any third-time felon who has committed two prior violent or serious felonies. The law lists 29 such crimes ranging from murder and rape to residential burglary and furnishing hard drugs to minors.

Despite resemblances to the newly passed bill, a public initiative is also pressing ahead, as backers vow to submit the 600,000 signatures required by law to place the proposition on the November ballot. The deadline for submitting the signatures is today. The delayed bills return to committees where they are expected to be consolidated into an anticrime package that may take a month to prepare.

Both the initiative and the approved legislation, the latter crafted by Assemblymen Bill Jones (R), and Jim Costa (D), are expected to cost $22 billion in prison construction over the next 30 years.

Both plans would require an additional, annual operating cost of $5.7 billion, according to a study by the State Department of Corrections.

Because the state has been stuck in its harshest recession since the 1930s, the costs of the new measure were the subject of intense debate, and were seriously questioned even by backers.

``I'm going to vote for these turkeys because my constituents want me to,'' said Sen Leroy Greene (D). ``How we are going to pay I do not know.''

Since the state is coming out of three major-deficit years, and is projected to be $5 billion in the red this year, proponents offered bond measures as possible means of payment.

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