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Legislature puts off death penalty debate

A state senator's attempt to ensure death row inmates face the electric chair isn't going anywhere during this week's special legislative session.

The House won't deal with the death penalty issue until the regular session in 1998, speaker-designate Rep. John Thrasher said Wednesday.

That means no law concerning the death penalty will result from the special session on school crowding because both chambers must agree to a bill before it could be sent to Gov. Lawton Chiles.

"We want to do it the right way," said Thrasher, R-Orange Park.

The governor had already promised to block Sen. Locke Burt's plan to allow lethal injection only if the electric chair is found unconstitutional.

Burt, the Senate majority leader, said earlier this week that failing to send death row inmates to the electric chair "outrages my constituents."

The Florida Supreme Court last month ruled 4-3 that the electric chair is not cruel and unusual punishment. Five of the justices, however, urged lethal injection be allowed.

The issue went to the high court after a flame shot from the headpiece worn by Pedro Medina, the last Florida inmate electrocuted.

Chiles wants lawmakers to consider lethal injection, but he is afraid the bill by Burt, R-Ormond Beach, could result in the commutation of existing death sentences to life in prison.

In a separate development Wednesday, Rep. Victor Crist, R-Temple Terrace, unveiled a death penalty proposal designed to shorten the appeals process.

The proposal forces death row inmates to file all their state appeals at one time instead of one after the other. The inmate would maintain the right to appeal to a federal court and also would continue to receive state-funded legal representation.

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