What do truckers, bankers, physician assistants, local elected officials, 4-H members, dental hygienists, anti–vaccine activists, Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, public educators, National Guardsman, solar energy supporters and cancer survivors have in common? They all held “Advocacy Days” in Tallahassee this week, advocating for or against legislation or seeking state dollars to achieve a specific purpose.
The Legislature was in high gear for Week 3 of nine. Following is a summary of issues important to The Florida Bar:
2017-18 LEGISLATIVE BUDGET PROCESS
Courts face cuts in budget exercises
The House Appropriations Committee on March 15 heard presentations from subcommittee chairs on the budget reduction “exercise” by subcommittees. The Justice Appropriations Subcommittee was given two targets for the total cuts to entities under its jurisdiction: The first was a target reduction of $125 million, and the second a target reduction of $275 million. To meet the targets, the subcommittee focused on cutting reversions and vacant positions, and sweeping trust fund balances to replace general revenue. Under the first target, the subcommittee chair cited a reduction for the courts of $9 million in personnel and services. For the second target, he cited a reduction of $36 million, which would include cutting an additional 440 positions from the circuit and county courts based on reductions in case filings. Similar position cuts were identified for the state attorneys and public defenders. The committee did not take action on the reports.
Link to the court’s legislative budget request: http://floridafiscalportal.state.fl.us/Publications.aspx?AgyID=2200
Rep. Carlos Trujillo, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, requested that the chief judge of each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits attend this week’s House Appropriations Committee meeting. The judges were asked to testify and to answer questions regarding each circuit’s caseload and the perceived imbalance in the case closure rates of individual judges. The judges spent two hours explaining some of the practical issues confronting judges when managing caseloads, as well as the process used to determine the need for additional judges. Following this testimony, Trujillo unveiled the outlines of a plan to provide pay adjustments — both positive and negative — to judges based on a series of productivity measures. Basically, the top quartile of performers would qualify for increased compensation, and the bottom quartile of performers would lose compensation. The details of the “Budget Neutral Performance Pay Model” are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, supports 12-year term limits for judges and justices. The Florida Bar Board of Governors adopted the following position statement regarding the judicial term limits proposal: “The Florida Bar opposes term limits for judges at any level of Florida’s state court system.” The Bar’s legislative counsel is working with the various judicial conferences, statewide business organizations, numerous Bar sections and many other groups to voice opposition.
HJR 1 by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mt. Dora, proposes an amendment to the state Constitution to limit appellate judges to two terms. HJR 1 has passed two committees and is on the House Special Order Calendar on Wednesday, March 29.
SJR 482 by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, proposes an amendment to the state Constitution to create a minimum age requirement of 50 years old for Supreme Court justices and judges of the district courts of appeal. The joint resolution also limits Supreme Court justices to two full six-year terms, while judges on the state’s district courts of appeal would be limited to three full terms. SJR 482 also requires one year of prior service as a judge for appointment as Supreme Court justice. SJR 482 has not been scheduled for a hearing.
The Florida Bar opposes term limits for judges at any level of Florida’s state court system.
LEGISLATIVE REVIEW OF JUDICIAL RULINGS
HJR 121 by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, and SB 1098 by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, proposes the creation of s. 22 of Article III of the State Constitution to provide for legislative review of judicial rulings when those rulings declare a legislative act void. Neither bill has had a hearing.
HM 125, also filed by Rep. Gonzalez, and SM 1106 by Sen. Perry urge the U.S. Congress to propose to the states a constitutional amendment to the U.S. Constitution to “deem a law that has been declared void by certain federal courts active and operational.” Such measures, if passed, are nonbinding. Neither memorial has had a hearing.
The Florida Bar opposes amendment to the Florida Constitution that restricts or overturns the courts’ authority to review the constitutional validity of legislation and opposes amendment to the United States Constitution that restricts or overturns the courts’ authority to review the constitutional validity of legislation.
SUPREME COURT REPORTING REQUIREMENTS
No movement this week in House; Senate bill passes second committee
HB 301 by Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, and SB 878 by Sen.Tom Lee, R-Brandon, would require the Supreme Court to provide an annual report to the governor, attorney general, Senate president and House speaker with specified data on cases for which a decision or disposition was not rendered within 180 days after the oral argument was heard or after the date on which the case was submitted to the court panel for a decision without oral argument.
HB 301 passed the House on March 10 by a vote of 78-37. SB 878 passed the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee unanimously this week and awaits action by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION
Constitution panel met this week
The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) held its introductory session on Monday, March 20. Members were sworn into office, and then discussed the commission’s rules and received an ethics briefing. Chairman Carlos Beruff announced the first four scheduled stops on the statewide “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour being hosted by the 2017-2018 Florida CRC: University of Central Florida in Orange County, Wednesday, March 29, 5-8 p.m.; Florida International University in Miami-Dade County, Thursday, April 6, 5-8 p.m.; Florida Atlantic University in Palm Beach County, Friday, April 7, 9 a.m.-noon; and the University of West Florida in Escambia County, Wednesday, April 12, 4-7 p.m. (CDT). Most of the work of the panel is expected to take place after the conclusion of the legislative session. Any proposed constitutional amendments recommended by the 37-member commission will go on the ballot for the November 2018 elections and would require approval from 60 percent of voters to take effect. For more information visit www.flcrc.gov.
The Florida Bar is working to educate the public of the importance of the CRC. For more information visit www.floridabar.org/crc.
FLORIDA’S DEATH PENALTY
Approved by governor
In one of its first decisions of the session, the Legislature passed SB 280, a bill requiring a jury’s unanimous vote to determine a sentence of death. The legislature acted in response to a Florida Supreme Court decision in Hurst V. Florida that found Florida’s existing law allowing for 10-2 jury vote to be unconstitutional.
The governor signed this legislation on March 13, and it immediately became law. Chapter Law 2017-1, Laws of Florida.
We hope you have found these summaries useful. Please email or contact us with any questions.
To see bills relating to a particular bar group or area of practice, go to “Legislation of Interest to the Legal Profession” on the Bar website.
For more detailed information on specific legislation tracked by the Bar, visit the Legislation Committee’s page on the Bar website.