Legislative Activity - Florida

  • State Legislators Advance Bills to Ban Juvenile Death Penalty Just weeks after legislators in Wyoming and South Dakota passed legislation to ban the execution of juvenile offenders, lawmakers in Florida are on a similar course that may send a bill that eliminates the death penalty for those under the age of 18 to Governor Jeb Bush for signature into law. Members of the Florida Senate passed the juvenile death penalty ban by a vote of 26-12, and the House is expected to take up the measure later this week. Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, who had been opposed to raising the minimum the age for capital offenders, has indicated that he will allow House members to "vote their conscience" when considering the bill. The legislation's House sponsor, Representative Phillip Brutus of Miami, noted, "I think it will be a pretty strong vote. To invoke the harshest penalty of all - which is death - when somebody is 17 years old is wrong." If the Florida legislature passes and Governor Bush signs the bill into law, the state will become the 20th in the nation to ban the practice and the third state to enact this policy in 2004. New Hampshire's House and Senate overwhelmingly voted for a similar bill earlier this month, but Governor Craig Benson has vowed to veto the legislation. The Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of the juvenile death penalty this fall when it hears arguments in Roper v. Simmons. (Various news sources including the Sun-Sentinel of Florida and The Union Leader of New Hampshire, April 27, 2004).
  •  Governor Jeb Bush signed a bill to prohibit the imposition of the death penalty on a defendant who suffers from mental retardation. The bill - which unanimously passed the Florida Senate in March and was only one vote short of passing the House unanimously in May - does not contain a set IQ level, but uses a definition that considers intellectual functioning and behavior. Under the legislation, a defendant, who has already been convicted and sentenced to death, can petition the trial judge to appoint mental health experts to determine whether he or she is mentally retarded. Florida is the second state this year to ban the execution of defendants with mental retardation, bringing the total number of states prohibiting such executions to 15 plus the federal government. Currently, bills to ban such executions are pending the governor's signature in Connecticut, Missouri and Texas.
  • On May 4, 2001 the state legislature passed a measure that will allow Floridians to have a chance to put the death penalty in the state constitution. The amendment will be considered on the November 2002 ballot. Besides putting the death penalty in the state constitution, the amendment would also make 16-year-olds eligible for the death penalty.
  • A bill that will provide procedures under which a defendant who has been found guilty or who has pled guilty may petition trial court to order examination of DNA evidence unanimously passed the House a day after unanimously passing the Senate. The bill is now headed to Gov. Bush for signing.
  • The Florida Bar's Board of Governors sent a proposal the Florida Supreme Court on February 9, 2001 asking the court to consider the issue of allowing anyone already convicted of a crime to be given 2 years to seek DNA testing. Currently, convicts have no avenue to seek DNA testing to exonerate them unless a request was made within 2 years of their conviction. The court could extend the deadline, giving inmates an unlimited amount of time. (Miami Herald, 2/11/01)