2016 Legislative Session Posted March 14, 2016 by Tallahassee Bar Association

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Florida’s 2016 legislative session concluded at 6:46 Friday afternoon [March 11]. Capital blogger Peter Schorsch captured the overall spirit of the session in a blog post:

“[T]hings worked out OK. Not great. Not particularly memorable. But it could have been worse. The highlight of the 2016 session has to be the budget it produced, which is expected to pass with bipartisan support. … The final grade for the 2016 Legislative Session: B-minus, just the kind of good enough grade for everyone to enjoy the Spring Break that begins next week.”

Considering the rancor from the 2015 session, coupled with the various redistricting special sessions, the 2016 session was a vast improvement. Legislators will head home and focus on the presidential primary scheduled for this Tuesday and their own political plans moving forward. They will also await Gov. Rick Scott’s review of their work as the veto period moves into high gear.

APPELLATE COURT TERM LIMITS
Failed to pass

SJR 322 by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) and HJR 197 by Rep. John Wood (R-Winter Haven), proposed a constitutional amendment to create term limits for Supreme Court justices and District Court of Appeal judges. If approved by the voters, the amendment would have limited Florida appellate justices and judges to two full six-year terms on the bench.

The House passed the proposal by a vote of 76-38. The Senate did not hear SJR 322 this year. Therefore, the joint resolution failed to become law.

The Florida Bar opposes term limits for judges at any level of Florida’s state court system.

DEATH PENALTY
HB 7101 was approved by the governor on March 7; Chapter No. 2016-13

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida found that the state’s system of giving judges – and not juries – the power to impose death sentences was an unconstitutional violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. The 8-1 decision dealt with the sentencing phase of death penalty cases after defendants are found guilty, and focused on what are known as “aggravating” circumstances that must be determined before defendants can be sentenced to death. The 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Ring v. Arizona requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be made by juries, not judges. Under Florida law, juries make recommendations regarding the death penalty based on a review of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but judges ultimately decide whether defendants should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison.

HB 7101 requires unanimous jury decisions on at least one aggravating factor before recommending death. If a jury cannot unanimously agree on an aggravating factor, the jurors must recommend a life sentence without parole. Judges will be required to follow the jury’s recommendation for life, eliminating their previous ability to override the jury and impose a death sentence. HB 7101 requires that at least 10 of the 12 jurors recommend execution for it to be imposed.

STATE BUDGET
Legislature approves 2016-2017 General Appropriations Act

The budget contains the following court funding priorities:

· Infrastructure needs for the Supreme Court facility, including security support: $315,774
· Operational support for State Court Systems: $707,789 (including 6FTE)
· 3rd DCA Court remodeling for ADA, security and building systems upgrades: $6,482,222
· 4th DCA courthouse construction: $7,509,276
· 2nd DCA facility space study: $200,000
· 2nd DCA facility lease needs: $518,000
· Restoration of Glades County courthouse: $350,000
· Renovation, restoration or expansion of Charlotte County Justice Center: $1,000,000
· Renovation, restoration or expansion of Okaloosa County Courthouse: $1,000,000
· Emergency renovation and repairs for the Nassau County Courthouse: $300,000
· Operational increases for the Judicial Qualifications Commission: $115,671

The Legislature did not fund across-the-board state employee pay increases, nor did it fund judicial salary increases or court employee pay equity issues.

The budget also provides for a space-needs study for the 2nd District Court of Appeal, including a recommendation on the location of the most suitable location or locations for the court. The proviso specifies the following language:

“The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) shall conduct a review of the Florida District Courts of Appeal to determine whether the current jurisdictional boundaries fairly and effectively distribute the workload of the circuit courts. OPPAGA shall identify options for rearranging the districts’ boundaries to improve workload distribution and reduce costs to the court system. The Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) shall provide OPPAGA with requested data to complete its study, including circuit and appellate workload data. The study shall be provided to the Governor, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court no later than February 1, 2017.”

The budget also directs OPPAGA, the Legislature’s research arm, to examine district court of appeal boundaries. Specifically, the budget provides:

“From the funds in Specific Appropriation 3142A, $200,000 in nonrecurring general revenue funds is provided to contract for a study of the courthouse space and location needs of the Second District Court of Appeal. The study shall 1) Evaluate the current courthouse facilities and locations of the court. The evaluation will include, but not be limited to, review and consideration of: total square footage, space configuration, parking, and parcel-size needs of the court; the caseload of the court based on judicial circuits from which the cases on appeal originate; the geographic boundaries of the district; the population dispersion of the district; the city of residence of users and staff of the court; and the availability of existing buildings to house the court or land for construction of a courthouse. 2) Estimate the costs for any necessary repairs or renovations for operating the courthouse facility and property in Lakeland, Polk County. 3) Provide a market analysis of the facility and property in Lakeland, Polk County, including but not limited to an assessment of the commercial and non-commercial uses of property in the surrounding area and the identification of and the feasibility of potential alternative public and private uses of the facility and property. 4) Recommend whether maintaining separate facilities and locations or consolidating in one facility and location better benefits users and facilitates the effective operation of the court and provide a cost-benefit analysis of location options. 5) Depending upon the study’s recommendations on maintaining separate facilities and locations or consolidating in one facility or location, recommend the most desirable location or locations for the court by city or county considering the business and operational case for that location or locations. The Office of the State Court Administrator shall submit the study to the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Chief Judge of the Second District Court of Appeal by December 31, 2016.”

STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS
Failed to pass

SB 142 by Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) and HB 923 by Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) would have created the Greater Good Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program for attorneys employed by local, state or federal government agencies. The legislation limited the eligibility to attorneys employed for 10 years or fewer and earning a salary of less than $65,000 annually. The legislation also provided award amounts for attorneys based on specified eligibility criteria and provides loan payment requirements. Additionally, to be eligible for the program, an attorney would have to be a member in good standing of The Florida Bar without disciplinary action by the Bar.

HB 291 by Rep. Hazelle Rogers (D-Lauderhill) required the Justice Administrative Commission and the Attorney General’s Office to implement a student loan assistance program for career assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders, assistant attorneys general or assistant statewide prosecutors in the repayment of eligible student loans. HB 291 never was heard in committee.

IMMIGRATION
Failed to pass

HB 4059 by Rep. John Tobia (R-Melbourne Beach) removed the provisions authorizing the Florida Supreme Court to admit a bar applicant who is an unauthorized immigrant. HB 4059 never was heard in committee.

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