"Justice and death penalty" is the title of an editorial in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Here's the beginning:
For all its faults, the death penalty retains strong support among the public and politicians. The Florida House of Representatives confirmed this reality Thursday when it easily approved a bill aimed at shortening the long road to execution.
We can surely understand the Legislature's desire to make the process more time-efficient and reduce the seemingly endless delays that dog the system. But in their push to accelerate executions, lawmakers are bypassing larger flaws in the death penalty.
Those flaws include the enormous added expense of death-penalty cases (compared with life-in-prison outcomes) and the tragic reality of erroneous convictions.
For these reasons, we believe the public would be better off restricting the death penalty, not accelerating it. The change would allow millions of dollars to be repurposed toward law enforcement, forensics improvements, crime solving and crime prevention.
"Bill to speed Florida's death penalty could force 13 executions in 2013," is Dara Kam's news report in the Palm Beach Post.
Juan Roberto Melendez spent 17 years on Florida’s Death Row after being wrongly convicted of the 1983 murder of Delbert Baker.
His conviction and death sentence were upheld by courts three times before Melendez was released from prison in 2002 after his attorneys discovered a taped confession by Baker’s murderer.
But if changes lawmakers are considering for Florida’s death penalty had been in place a decade ago, Melendez would have been executed.
“He would not have had time to find the evidence that led to his release,” said Melendez’s attorney, Marty McClain, who pursued his appeal.
The proposed “Timely Justice Act,” which the House approved last week and the Senate could vote on as early as Monday, would create shorter time frames for death penalty appeals and take away the governor’s discretion about when to order an execution.
Florida has 405 inmates awaiting execution, more than any other state except California, and it has the highest number of Death Row exonerees: 24.
The average length of time between sentencing and execution is 13 years in the state, but 10 men on Death Row have been there for more than three decades, including Paul Scott, convicted in 1979 of the Boca Raton murder of florist James Alessi.
Gov. Rick Scott has not indicated where he stands on the legislation, and his office declined comment last week.
But according to Scott’s office, if the bill does become law, 13 Death Row inmates would fit its criteria, meaning the governor who has signed nine death warrants in the 29 months since he took office would have to order 13 executions within six months.
The Florida Current posts, "Senate OKs death penalty speed-up," by Bill Cotterell.
The Florida Senate shouted down on Friday an amendment intended to make death sentences more difficult to impose.
A House-passed bill (HB 7083) by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, is intended to speed the appeals process, which often keeps condemned killers on death row for decades. Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, tried to slow down the package with an amendment that would have required 10 jurors to vote for a death recommendation, rather than seven, but his proposal failed in a voice vote.
Supporters of the bill asked Soto for one reason to make the change.
"I could think of 24 good reasons -- the 24 people on our own Death Row who were exonerated by DNA evidence," he said. "I support the death penalty, but I have concerns about us being the only state with just majority judgments in these cases."
"Fla. House not backing down on conservative agenda," is an AP report by Brendan Farrington, via the Miami Herald.
While the GOP on the national level discusses whether it needs to change its messaging to appeal to a broader base, Republicans in the Florida House are clearly sticking with a conservative social agenda.
They voted to send a message to Congress and President Barack Obama to keep their hands off citizens' guns in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings. In addition, the House is considering a bill that would allow guns in schools. It already has sent the Senate three bills aimed at protecting fetuses, along with another that would speed up the death penalty.
Then there's the bill the chamber passed to ban Shariah, or Islamic law, and other foreign laws from being applied in state courts, though there's no evidence judges have used foreign law against Floridians.
Democrats say the focus on conservative social issues in the House distracts from more serious and immediate issues facing the state, such as the economy and unemployment.
"The challenge back to our Republican colleagues is to say, 'Look, what does this do to advance the dialogue of making Florida better?'" said Rep. Alan Williams. "I don't think it does a whole lot. Right now we should be focused on how do we come out of this recession as a stronger, better Florida."
Williams, D-Tallahassee, said the conservative agenda doesn't reflect the state's moderate makeup or the message voters sent by backing Obama in the past two elections.
"I understand that they feel that they have to stick to their conservative core values, but Florida is a very moderate state," Williams said. "We miss the mark when we focus on bills like speeding up the death penalty, when we focus on a lot of the abortion issues, when we don't expand Medicaid."
Earlier coverage of Florida capital legislation begins at the link.