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Death Penalty Ruling Caps Busy Week For Florida Supreme Court, Legislature

As Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, continues to reshape the Supreme Court, justices on Thursday gave a clear picture of how much the court has already changed since he took office last January. NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Week two of the 2020 legislative session is in the books.

But bigger news was made this week at the Florida Supreme Court than at the building across the street, a Capitol chock full of lawmakers who are starting to develop session intrigue.

As Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to reshape the Supreme Court, justices on Thursday gave a clear picture of how much the court has already changed since he took office last January.

In a 4-1 ruling, the new conservative majority backed away from a major 2016 ruling and said a unanimous jury recommendation is not necessary to impose death sentences in Florida.

RELATED: Key Issues During The 2020 Florida Legislative Session

Thursday’s majority opinion said the court “got it wrong” in 2016 when it required changes such as unanimous jury recommendations.

Justice Jorge Labarga, however, wrote a dissent arguing the majority “has taken a giant step backward and removed a significant safeguard for the just application of the death penalty in Florida.”

Hours before the ruling, nine nominees were announced as potential replacements for former justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, who were tapped last year by President Donald Trump for positions on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The nine nominees, put forward by the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, include six state appellate judges, five women and one black candidate. DeSantis is expected to make appointments to the Supreme Court within 60 days.

DeSantis has made a priority of revamping the court, and he has made clear his next picks will bolster the conservative majority. The topic was a pillar of DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign, following years of Republican leaders expressing frustration at rulings by a generally liberal court.

With issues starting to brew during the 2020 session, the new conservative majority should be a comfort to GOP legislative leaders.


The House on Wednesday approved a proposal that would ask Florida voters in November to eliminate a powerful panel that placed seven constitutional amendments on the 2018 ballot --- all of which passed.

The proposal, which seeks to end the Constitution Revision Commission, still must go before the Senate, which backed eliminating the commission during last year’s session.

House sponsor Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, said the commission might have once served a valid purpose, but it had “too much political influence” in its 2018 incarnation.

The 37-member commission meets every 20 years and has the unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. It was established by voters as part of the 1968 Florida Constitution.

Most of the members are appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, which in the 2018 cycle meant appointments by former Gov. Rick Scott, former House Speaker Richard Corcoran and former Senate President Joe Negron, all of whom are Republicans.


A House draft proposal intended to allow athletes to cash in on their names and images would also require universities and colleges to provide financial aid and health coverage to athletes.

The proposal, released Thursday by the House Commerce Committee, outlines potential compensation for “name, image, likeness or persona” but maintains that pay for on-field performance would remain off limits.

Under the proposal, schools would be required to provide athletes with health and disability insurance and conduct financial-aid and life-skills workshops for athletes in their freshman and junior years.

“It’s really a bill of rights, and it’s focused on their time while in school,” said Commerce Chairman Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud.

The idea of allowing off-field compensation for college athletes has drawn support from DeSantis, a former college baseball player. DeSantis backed the idea after California passed a law last year to allow college athletes to hire agents and sign endorsement deals starting in 2023.


A Senate panel on Wednesday split along party lines as Republicans pushed through a bill that would require teenage girls to get consent from their parents before having abortions.

The Senate bill cleared the Rules Committee in a 9-7 vote on the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which held women have a fundamental right to decide whether to have abortions.

Bill sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said she wasn’t aware of the timing of the bill being taken up on the Roe v. Wade anniversary.

“That’s not an anniversary that I actually look to, so I actually didn’t even know that was actually occurring,” Stargel said. “Again, I think this is strengthening the family and making sure that when you have those difficult situations that there is a conversation. A discussion.”

Wednesday’s vote positions the bill to go to the Senate floor and keeps the measure on track to pass during this year’s session, handing conservatives a victory ahead of the November elections. The House version also is ready for a floor vote.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Florida Supreme Court reversed itself on Thursday, ruling that unanimous jury recommendations are not needed to impose death sentences.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “They don’t make any moves unless we ultimately, if someone ultimately, pushes them. And in this case, we decided it would have to be us.” -- Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, referring to NCAA officials’ involvement in the issue of allowing compensation for college athletes.

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Ana Ceballos - News Service of Florida