The Florida Senate took its first steps toward fixing the state’s beleaguered death penalty, clearing a requirement that jurors must unanimously approve a capital sentence through a criminal justice panel.
The chamber’s Criminal Just ice Committee voted unanimously to approve the legislation (SB 280) Monday.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, proposed the legislation in response to rulings by the Florida Supreme Court that declared the state’s death penalty sentencing unconstitutional. Last year, lawmakers increased the standard for a death sentence to a 10-2 jury vote, but the justices said it should be unanimous.
Bracy dropped a proposed change that would have directed the courts to retroactively give all of the nearly 400 inmates on death row a new sentence, saying he “didn’t have the votes.” The court signaled it plans to give new sentences to those sentenced after a key 2002 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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Yet some have raised concerns that the Legislature’s piecemeal attempt to fix constitutional problems with the death penalty ignores a broader point and that lawmakers should consider a more holistic rewrite.
“We’ll be back here again,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said. “We do just enough each year just to make us feel good and then we have to come back and redo it again.”
Similar legislation has been filed in the Florida House, and Republican legislative leaders in both chambers appear eager to pass a bill soon that will allow state attorneys to continue prosecuting capital cases.