New Jersey legislators are considering abolishing the state's death penalty within the next two months, the Associated Press reports.
The state has not executed anyone in 44 years. If approved by the legislature and the governor, New Jersey would become the first state to abolish capital punishment since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, Jr., speaking of the proposal, said "the time has come."
Speaker Roberts met with Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic sister who is a famous death penalty abolitionist. Her book "Dead Man Walking" told of her experience as a spiritual adviser to inmates on death row. The book was made into an Oscar-winning movie.
Sister Prejean praised the legislative efforts.
"This is such a special moment," she said. "New Jersey is going to be a beacon on the hill."
There are eight men on New Jersey's death row.
A relative of one man's victims called for the legislature to streamline the death penalty and put the question to voters.
Sharon Hazard-Johnson, whose parents were killed in their home in 2001 by Brian Wakefield, said voters would not approve. "The majority would say that they are for the death penalty when it fits the crime."
Republicans, the minority party in the state, also said they would fight the proposal.
Governor Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, is a death penalty opponent and has pledged his support for abolition.
The Assembly will vote on December 13 whether to reduce the death penalty to life in prison without parole. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure before the end of the legislative session on January 8, though the vote has not yet been scheduled.