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Will Florida Become the Toughest Death Penalty State in the Nation?

Following the Parkland massacre, bipartisan support propels death penalty bill through and out of the Senate.

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — A bill that would revamp the Floridian criminal justice system passed the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, designed to earn Florida the title of strictest death penalty state in the country.

“What happened in Parkland was abhorrent,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) said, explaining the impetus for the legislation. He referenced the 17 murdered by Nikolas Cruz at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “This will send a message that the state of Florida will not stand for heinous crimes.”

Public outrage ensued when Nikolas Cruz escaped the death penalty in a 9–3 jury decision, resulting in the filing of SB 450. This legislation would lower death penalty requirements from a unanimous jury recommendation to a supermajority of 8 jurors.

“Nikolas Cruz acted as judge, jury, and executioner,” Sen. Ingoglia continued, “If a monster like that does not get the death penalty, then what do we have the death penalty for?”

The bill earned bipartisan support with Democratic Senate Leader Lauren Book and Sen. Jason Pizzo joining the Republicans. “There is a stark difference between those who do not deserve to live, and those who deserve to die,” Sen. Pizzo said. “And Nikolas Cruz did not deserve to live, and he did deserve to die.”

The 2023 session demonstrates a clear Florida focus towards expanding capital punishment. In addition to SB 450, another bill would allow the death penalty for child rapists, similarly requiring only 8 jurors for a capital punishment recommendation. That bill – SB 1342 – is bipartisan, introduced by Republican Senator Jonathan Martin and Democratic Senate Leader Lauren Book. Though it directly confronts a 2008 Supreme Court precedent prohibiting death for child rapists, it has garnered unanimous support.  

Following SB 450’s supermajority passing, it will move to the House. If voted favorably in the House, it will be delivered to the governor’s desk for DeSantis to sign it into law.