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Legislators moving death penalty speed-up quickly

Despite warnings that Florida will shrink the appeals of the innocent, the Florida House passed a bill Thurday designed to accelerate the execution of many of the 404 inmates on Florida's death row.

By an 84-34 vote, the House passed HB 7083, the "Timely Justice Act of 2013" and sent it to the Senate, where a companion measure is expected to be taken up later today.

Sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, the bill creates a new process that establishes a system to determine which inmates on death row have exhausted their post-conviction appeals and requires the governor to sign a death warrant wtihin 30 days, after a Supreme Court review. The execution would then have to take place within 180 days.

"There are some who will [be put to death sooner] but only those whose guilt or innocence is not in question,'' Gaetz said. The measure prohibits lawyers for death row inmates from using certain defenses in capital cases, requires that the North Florida region be allowed to hire full time lawyers to provide defense in capital cases, and it puts penalties on lawyers who have been accused of being ineffective counsel.

Florida's inmates on death row wait an average of 13 years before they are executed. Among the 404 sentenced to death, 155 of them have been there for more than 20 years and ten have been on death row for more than 35 years.

Gaetz said the changes are necessary to end what he called "legal gamesmanship and legal quibbling that unnecessarily postpones justice for the filler and the victims."

"The only thing we're getting rid of are those types of motions that don't speak to someone's guilt or innocence,'' he said.

Legislative analysts estimate the state spends between $326,093 and $296,032 per inmate before his or her execution.

Since 1976, when the state reinstated the death penalty, Florida has executed 74 inmates. Proponents say that only California, which has 724 inmates on its death row, has a longer wait for execution.

Gaetz said the state can't control the federal court proceedings but the reforms, along with any reforms to be adopted by the Florida Supreme Court, could reduce the average to below 10 years.

Opponents say it will only weaken an already unfair system. Florida has freed 13 men, collectively served more than 200 years

"It's not like those who commit these crimes are not being punished,'' said Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach. "They are locked in a cage for 32 years or more. That is a form of justice. Maybe not swift or fast enough for some."

Geatz said that those left "are guilty and they are going to face some timely justice with this bill."

The Florida Supreme Court has appointed a committee to revise the existing rules to ensure that capital cases can move more quickly through the court system and plans to release its study in September.

Critics of the bill said legislators should wait for their report.