Death Penalty Bill Dead For The Session

Feb 8, 2013

State lawmakers will not  decide whether to abolish the death penalty this year. Rejecting cost, fairness and morality arguments, a House criminal justice subcommittee on Thursday voted down a bill to abolish capital punishment in Florida.

OPPONENTS: State Reps. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda and Matt Gaetz. Gaetz' committee killed her anti-capital punishment bill.

The vote was largely along party lines, with the majority Republicans voting in favor of preserving the death penalty.

That takes the bill off the table for the 2013 legislative session that begins March 5. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said she would reintroduce it next year. This was her third attempt to do away with the death penalty in as many years.

House Criminal Justice subcommittee chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Okaloosa County,  said the death penalty deters crime and has broad support in Florida. But he said it could be more swiftly and efficiently applied.

“It is an accurate statement that the capital system we have now costs too much, could and should cost less, and that’s work we hope to undertake,” he told the Tallahassee Democrat.

Gaetz said he believes capital punishment is warranted in some cases. He pointed to undercover police officers, who move among criminals who may be inclined to kill an officer in their midst but for the fact that a conviction for the killing would lead to their execution. That argument was echoed by... the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Gaetz has now set his sights on resolving death penalty cases more quickly. In the coming weeks, he said his committee will look for ways to curb “insincere appeals” that can delay executions long after conviction. The Department of Corrections reports condemned prisoners in the state are on Death Row for an average of more than 13 years before execution.

The death penalty debate is playing out against new information that "cultural changes" within the Department of Corrections have dramatically reduced the number of ex-convicts who commit new crimes within three years of their release. State prisons boss Mike Crews said a new emphasis on education, job training and drug treatment inside has allowed more and more felons to be released with job skills and no drug habits.

Gov. Rick Scott's office says the decline in recidivism has reduced prison admissions by 21 percent over the last four years, saving the state an estimated $44 million.

The new prison programs are part of Crews' Transition from Prison to Community Initiative, and he says it’s a real departure from the past. "Historically in our agency, it has been about locking them up, turning them out and hoping for the best when they get out," Crews said.

"I think we've all seen that just does not work when you look at the exploding rates that we saw for a number of years."

WLRN Radio and The Miami Herald will be hosting a Town Hall with state legislative leaders on Monday, Feb. 25, at 6:30p. m.  Reserve your seat now.  This work is supported by Global Integrity