Florida House Panel Votes to Keep Death Penalty

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Associated Press Release

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida lawmakers are rejecting calls to scrap the death penalty in the state.

A Florida House panel on Thursday voted down a bill that called for the end of capital punishment. Florida currently has more than 400 inmates on Death Row - the second highest total in the nation.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, and sponsor of the bill (HB 4005) said the death penalty is too costly and is wrong for moral and ethical reasons. She also questioned whether it is a crime deterrent.

But other legislators defended the use of capital punishment.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, called the death penalty essential to public safety and justice in the state.

Religious leaders, human rights advocates and Democrats took turns railing against the death penalty Thursday.

“The death penalty is a barbaric act and we need to abolish it,” said Juvais Harrington with the NAACP.

Many have fought the battle for decades but what’s different now is legislation to end capital punishment was promised a hearing.

“There is no proof that the death penalty deters crime,” said Bill Sponsor Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda.

The next obstacle for supporters is getting the bill past Representative Matt Gaetz.

Reporter: Do you ever see a day when we don’t need the death penalty?
Gaetz: No. I think the death penalty is important for public safety.

Gaetz allowed the bill to be heard in his committee despite his opposition. Supporters of the legislation say he may have other motives.

Reporter: By hearing the bill to eliminate the death penalty, the death penalty will be sped up?

Gaetz: My view is before we get to the business of reforming the death penalty, it’s a threshold question as to whether or not Florida should have a death penalty at all.

Florida executes two inmates a year and 400 people are currently on death row.

“If we are not going to get rid of it, let’s at least fix it so we don’t have this blight on our justice system where we have people hanging around 25 or 30 years without any end in sight,” said Gaetz.

Regardless of the outcome, opponents of the death penalty say the fact the bill is being heard is evidence they’re gaining ground. The bill was heavily defeated this afternoon, but Gaetz says he’s open to hearing more ideas on how to reform the current system.

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