TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — A bill designed to expand the death penalty received a tense introduction to the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday morning, with surprising bipartisan opposition to the bill’s advancement.
In the wake of Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz’s escaping of the death penalty, Rep. Berny Jacques’ (R-Seminole) HB 555 aims to reduce a death penalty recommendation from a unanimous decision to a supermajority of 8 jurors.
“It requires our attention to get it right,” Rep. Jacques implored, “Even Ted Bundy’s jury was not unanimous! It goes to show you that there are flaws in our system… help me right this wrong for victims, and the victims’ families.”
“ADDRESS MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE”
Rep. John Snyder (R-Stuart) agreed: “We have a unique opportunity to address a miscarriage of justice,” he stated in reference to the three jurors who voted against a Cruz death sentence.
Despite this, HB 555 barely squeaked by today’s committee, with an 8 to 6 favorable vote allowing it to inch on in the House.
Rep. Mike Beltran (R-Hillsborough) joined five Democrats against the bill, citing the over 300 inmates on death row, and the problems extended death row stays can have: “I don’t think we need to go out of our way to make it easier to execute until we execute those who have already been sentenced under our current standard,” Beltran argued.
COSTLIER THAN ALTERNATIVES
Rep. Mike Gottlieb (D-Davie) concurred, stating that death penalty cases “cost approximately $25 million more” than alternatives.
One of the fathers of the Parkland victims, Tony Montalto, voiced his support of HB 555:
“I appreciate this Committee’s focus on fiscal issues, but that doesn’t resonate with the victims’ families.” Montalto stated, “This bill is about victims’ rights.”
Following the hard-won passing of the bill in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, it will advance to the Judiciary Committee. In conjunction with its companion bill SB 450 doing well in the Senate, it has become a very real possibility that a death penalty supermajority will become Florida law.