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House Ready To Move On Death Penalty Changes

Florida Department of Corrections
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Taking an approach backed by prosecutors and Attorney General Pam Bondi, the Florida House on Wednesday is slated to take up a bill that would revamp the state's death-penalty sentencing system.

Lawmakers are hurrying to make changes after the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 ruled that the current system is unconstitutional because it gives too much power to judges, instead of juries, in sentencing defendants to death.

The House and Senate agree on a key part of addressing the Supreme Court ruling --- requiring that jurors be unanimous in deciding that at least one "aggravating" factor exists before a defendant can be eligible for the death penalty.

But the two chambers are divided on a high-profile issue about whether jurors should be required to be unanimous in recommending to judges that death sentences be imposed. In the past, Florida has required only majority recommendations.

The House, with support from prosecutors and Bondi, wants to move to a 9-3 vote, while the Senate wants to require a unanimous recommendation. The House is slated to take up its bill (HB 7101) during a floor session Wednesday afternoon, according to a calendar of bills approved Monday by the Rules and Calendar Committee.