Fact Check from State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 29, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

'Bush Plan' to Ban Execution of Mentally Retarded Received Overwhelming Republican Support in Florida and TexasP

A similar bill banning execution of the mentally retarded and passed overwhelmingly by the Texas Legislature received unanimous support from the Florida Legislature. Florida's legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. Of 120 members of the House of Representatives, 43 are Democrats and 77 are Republicans. Of 40 members of the Senate, 15 are Democrats and 25 are Republicans.

In Texas, a bill similar to the Bush Plan passed the narrowly-Democratic House 80 to 56 and the Republican Senate 20 to 9. That bill, House Bill 236, includes the Florida model that halts an execution if the judge finds after the trial that the defendant is mentally retarded.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush has never been accused of being soft on crime. Governor Bush led a fight to shorten the appellate process for convicted murders. He has stated that he is convinced no one on Florida's death row is innocent. Yet, Governor Bush pushed the Florida Legislature to pass the bill, even stating "I will never sign a death warrant for an individual who is mentally retarded," despite the outcome of the legislation. ("Governor Bush Supports Legislation to Prohibit the Execution of the Mentally Retarded," Press Release, Governor Jeb Bush, March 27, 2001)

The Bush Plan received backing by the Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association. The Association blocked a bill to ban execution of the mentally retarded in the previous session because of its emphasis on pre-trial determination. Because the Bush Plan entails a court decision after the trial, Jerry Blair, the association's vice president, agreed that the plan is "a safety net at the back-end that will ensure that we do not execute the mentally retarded." ("Legislature: State Senate passes bill banning execution of mentally retarded," Naples Daily News, March 30, 2001)

Ironically, conservative Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney (R) raised a concern for the lack of jury input while the Bush Plan was under consideration. Despite Speaker Feeney's ultimate support for the bill, a spokesperson told the Tallahassee Democrat that he had reservations and that "a case before a jury is the best opportunity for fairness in the judicial system." ("Bill bans executions of retarded," Tallahassee Democrat, February 14, 2001)

Texas' House Bill 236 addressed concerns that the jury be allowed to weigh in on the decision. Under HB 236, the court may only act after the jury has considered whether the defendant is mentally retarded.

"Texas does not need to wait for the Supreme Court to do what's right," said Senator Rodney Ellis. "The Jeb Bush plan proved in Florida that you can be tough on crime and still ensure compassionate justice."