Death penalty repeal bill gets hearing

Published On: Feb 07 2013 04:53:57 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 07 2013 06:35:03 PM EST
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

For the first time since the death penalty was reinstated, Florida lawmakers voted on a bill to repeal capital punishment.

The plan was to abolish the death penalty, but the effort could be used to try to speed up executions.

Religious leaders, human rights advocates and Democrats took turns railing against the death penalty Thursday.

"The death penalty is a barbaric act and we need to abolish it," said Juvais Harrington, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Many have fought the battle for decades, but what's different now is legislation to end capital punishment was promised a hearing.

"There is no proof that the death penalty deters crime," said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda.

The next obstacle for supporters is getting the bill past Rep. Matt Gaetz.

"Do you ever see a day when we don’t need the death penalty?" a reporter asked him.

"No, I think the death penalty is important for public safety," he said.

Gaetz allowed the bill to be heard in his committee despite his opposition. Supporters of the legislation say he may have other motives.

"By hearing the bill to eliminate the death penalty, the death penalty will be sped up?" the reporter asked.
"My view is, before we get to the business of reforming the death penalty, it’s a threshold question as to whether or not Florida should have a death penalty at all," Gaetz said.

Florida executes two inmates a year, and 400 people are currently on death row.

"If we are not going to get rid of it, let’s at least fix it so we don’t have this blight on our justice system where we have people hanging around 25 or 30 years without any end in sight," Gaetz said.

Regardless of the outcome, opponents of the death penalty say the fact the bill is being heard is evidence they’re gaining ground.

The bill was heavily defeated Thursday afternoon, but Gaetz said he's open to hearing more ideas on how to reform the current system.