Florida Legislator Tries Again to End State’s Death Penalty

From The Florida Current:

An attorney-law professor who opposes capital punishment for pragmatic fiscal reasons, as well as legal and moral grounds,  reintroduced her bill Friday to abolish the death penalty in Florida.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said she’s not just making a symbolic gesture.

“The more people we can get educated about the death penalty, I think they will realize that opposition is mostly political posturing, rather than good policy,” she told The Florida Current. “I actually believe we can show people that it’s not a good way to spend public money.”

Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Community College law instructor starting her third legislative term, introduces the bill every year without so much as a committee hearing. Just how tough a tactical battle she’s facing was illustrated in 2011, she said, when she offered her bill on the House floor as an amendment to another criminal-justice proposal.

House rules forbid floor amendments that are the substance of other bills not passed by committees, and Rehwinkel Vasilinda said she intended to talk about capital punishment and then withdraw her amendment. But the GOP House leadership decided to let it go to a floor vote and her amendment was crushed.

“I thought that was a great starting point,” she said cheerfully.

For the past two years, Florida led the nation in new death sentences imposed—22 last year—while five states have repealed their death penalties in the past five years. Rehwinkel Vasilinda said she has had very favorable reaction from her constituents and other residents across  the state during past legislative sessions, and that those who strongly support the death penalty have been “civil” in discussing it with her.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda said that besides moral objections to killing and the years of costly court appeals each death sentence entails, capital punishment is not a deterrent. She cited the murders at Sandy Hook, Conn., and the ambush a few days  later at Webster, N.Y., where a gunman set fires and shot four fire fighters—killing two—before killing himself last month.

“The death penalty was not any kind of deterrent to either Sandy Hook or the Webster massacres,” she said. “I believe we could use our money better to put more law enforcement officers on the ground.”

She cited a 2000 newspaper report estimating the state spent $51 million a year enforcing the death penalty. She said the state could train and equip 450 police officers for that much money, as well as upgrading crime laboratory facilities.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said removing possibility of execution would mean criminals already under life sentences “would have nothing to lose” if they kill again.

“I’d like to hear what the Department of Corrections and law enforcement officers think of this,” said Baxley. “It would pretty much be a license to kill inmates and correctional officers, for a man who’s already locked up for life—what more could they do to him.”

Still, Baxley said he welcomed the discussion.

“I’ve always said the best way for a legislator to start a discussion is to file a bill,” he said.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard said Florida has 402 men and five women under death sentences.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda said the intention of her bill (HB 4005) is to substitute life sentences without parole for the death penalty. The state already has that penalty when a jury spares a killer lethal injection in a first-degree murder case.

“Even if some Floridians and legislative colleagues believe that justice is vengeance, and vengeance is the proper role of government, we simply do not have the resources to afford that ‘luxury,’ ” she said. “We must be about the business of effective, smart crime fighting, preventing horrendous tragedies like that of Sandy Hook and Webster, not political posturing or simple vengeance.”


Related Reading:

Jan. 4, 2013 press release “Representative Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda Files Death Penalty Repealer Bill”

From My Interview With Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda

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One thought on “Florida Legislator Tries Again to End State’s Death Penalty

  1. Reblogged this on Wobbly Warrior's Blog and commented:
    Rep. Rehwinkel Vasilinda is quite right … Florida can’t afford vengeance; it’s being funded with dollars needed to make justice more swift and sure.

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