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Governor signs bill to shorten execution delays

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Updated: 6/15/2013 10:27 am
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (PBP) -- Rejecting nearly 15,000 pleas for a veto, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a measure speeding up executions. The law includes protections for Death Row convicts and “does not increase the risk of execution of persons who did not commit murder,” the governor said.

Scott signed the “Timely Justice Act” along with 58 other bills and vetoed two others, including a measure that would have made voters’ e-mail addresses secret, before heading off to a trade mission in France.
Scott also signed a bill that blocks local governments from requiring companies to provide sick time to employees.

The death penalty bill (HB 7083) requires the Florida Supreme Court to certify to the governor when a Death Row inmate’s appeals have been exhausted. Under the new law, the governor will have 30 days to sign a death warrant once the capital clemency process is complete.

In his transmittal letter accompanying the bill, Scott attempted to assuage what he called “speculation and misrepresentation” about what the bill does.

The measure “does not ‘fast-track’ death-penalty cases through the court system,” he wrote. “It does not establish time frames for judicial review in any way. It does not alter the orderly progress of executive clemency.”

Scott signed the measure into law just two days after William Van Poyck was put to death by lethal injection in the state prison in Starke. Van Poyck, convicted of the 1987 murder of a prison guard in West Palm Beach, was the seventh Death Row inmate executed under Scott’s orders.

Scott also noted in his letter that the average length of time for Florida Death Row inmates whose judicial review has been exhausted is more than 22 years.
Scott has signed 11 death warrants since taking office in January 2011.

“For these inmates, the average amount of time on death row has been over 25 years, time that is surely a crushing burden of uncertainty to the victims’ families,” Scott wrote.

Scott added that the number of executions under his watch is “proportional to the number of death sentences carried out in the first 30 months of Governor Bush’s administration.”

Death penalty opponents had urged Scott to veto the measure. Florida has had 24 Death Row inmates exonerated, more than any other state.

“No one knows how many more innocent people are awaiting execution on Florida’s Death Row. A new law that speeds up executions by limiting appeals will almost certainly lead to the execution of innocent men and women,” Mark Elliott, president of Floridians Against the Death Penalty, said in a statement.

According to Scott’s office, 13 Death Row inmates would meet the criteria for death warrants under the new law, which goes into effect on July 1. His office would not release the names of the inmates.
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon accused Scott of signing the bill to enhance his reelection chances by appealing to conservative voters.

“Florida’s experience has been nearly one exoneree for every three people executed. Had this law been in effect in the past, innocent people very likely would have been killed. Why would Governor Scott think that the future will be any different?” Simon, who called the measure the “Rush to Execution” bill said in a statement.

Florida’s new law contrasts with what is happening in most other states, which are slowing down or halting executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

In other action, Scott sided with another potent Republican constituency – business organizations – in signing into law a measure which would stop local governments from requiring companies to provide sick time to employees.

Organize Now, a workers’ organization, led an effort to put an earned sick time measure on the ballot in Orange County. In turn, the prospect of voters supporting the requirement prompted businesses, led by Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants, to fight back.

The legislation bars such measures from taking place in any Florida county or city. Womens’ groups, which had delivered 11,000 petition signatures to Scott’s office earlier this month urging that he veto the measure, said the ban hurt women workers more.

“Gov. Scott sided with corporations like Disney and Darden over Florida families,” said Stephanie Porta, a leader of Organize Now.

But business groups hailed the governor’s action.

“Local governments mandating employment benefits that extend beyond current state and federal requirements creates a dangerous threat to Florida’s overall economic recovery and prosperity,” said Tom Feeney, president of Associated Industries of Florida, and a former Republican House speaker and member of Congress.
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