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Garcia wins twice on juvenile bill and GOP shelves it

Two of the closest floor votes of the 2013 legislative session took place in the Senate Monday on the issue of sentencing juvenile killers. Both times, Republican Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah prevailed by a single vote, frustrating the Senate GOP leadership.

After Garcia prevailed, the bill's sponsor, who opposed the Miami-Dade lawmaker's amendment, postponed a final vote on the measure.

At issue was a bill (SB 1350) that seeks to conform state law to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions by preventing judges from automatically sentencing juveniles who commit murder to life prison sentences.

What tied the Senate up in knots was Garcia's proposal that such sentences must be reviewed after 25 years, and it added factors such as whether the offender showed "sincere and sustained remorse." If a judge determines the offender has been rehabilitated, the offender can be released subject to at least five years of probation.

After Garcia's amendment got onto the bill on a 19-18 vote, senators reconsidered the vote. Garcia prevailed a second time, 20-19, and at that point, sponsoring Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, postponed further action on the bill, endangering its prospects of passage.

Six Republicans supported Garcia on the pivotal second vote: Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Nancy Detert, R-Venice; Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami; Greg Evers, R-Baker; Anitere Flores, R-Miami; and Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Two Democratic senators switched their vote: Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, from yes to no, and Darren Soto, D-Orlando from no to yes.     

-- Steve Bousquet