I wrote several weeks ago about Florida Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who filed a bill to abolish Florida’s death penalty. Inspired by a 2000 Palm Beach Post article, Vasilinda filed the bill in order to spare taxpayers the $51 million annually it costs to enforce the death penalty in Florida.
This week I was able to sit down with Rep. Vasilinda in Tallahassee and ask her some questions about the bill. She was a pleasure to talk to and a passionate legislator. Here’s a few snippets from our interview:
I had thought about the death penalty for a number of years, since I was a young person, and I knew that it was very expensive, that the appeals are very expensive and the resources that we put toward putting people and keeping people on death row costs a lot of money. And so I started looking at it and I thought you know, why don’t we just have a bill to repeal the death penalty? And so I threw it out there.
There were only two of us that voted to repeal the death penalty. 117 members voted to keep the death penalty on the books in Florida. And what I guess that did for me is it made me realize it is not a partisan issue. It’s actually a bi-partisan issue. And I think that that’s an interesting starting point.
Frankly, really where it comes down for me is what is my role as a policy maker. And if you want to put my personal thoughts into this, I don’t think my role is to mete out vengeance. That’s not my role as a policy maker. My role, as I see it, is to provide public safety at a prudent cost, to the taxpayer. And if that’s the question, which I truly believe is the question, then the job is for me to say, take a look at the death penalty. Is it vengeance or is it public safety?
And if you take the $51 million a year that we are spending on keeping folks on death row, and you take the $6 million it takes to keep the same number of inmates in prison for one year, you could take that subtracted amount, over $40 million and put it to law enforcement. And why wouldn’t anybody think that that is clearly a better way to keep our citizens safe? I don’t know, but that’s my question.