The proposal would allow such prisoners to seek a new sentence after 10 years or 15 years behind bars, depending on when they entered the system. People receiving a life sentence as minors usually are 16-to-17-year-olds found guilty of first degree murder.
"This a bill that tries to give those young people a second chance, and that's all it does," said bill author Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. "They have to petition and earn that second chance."
He said not giving teens who have committed "horrible" crimes the opportunity to show they have changed does not match neuroscience studies or accepted human rights law in other countries.
Human Rights Watch and the National Center for Youth Law are co-sponsors of the measure.
The bill passed 21-16 with no votes to spare because all Senate Republicans present and two Democrats -- Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana and Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance -- voted against it.
"There's no justification for showing mercy to these types of vicious killers," said Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach.
The California District Attorneys Association said in a letter to lawmakers that it opposed the bill because it would "substantially weaken" existing law.
The bill allows covered prisoners to petition for a new sentence three times and lists several items courts can consider during the hearing.The prisoner must, at the least, show "remorse" to be granted a new sentence.
Senate Bill 9 now goes to the Assembly for consideration.
PHOTO CREDIT: A man is handcuffed by sheriffs deputies in Sacramento in March 2011. Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee.