This week, Florida’s legislators worked in an array of policy areas impacting every facet of life in Florida. Interest groups can become laser-focused on a specific bill or policy area, so sometimes it helps to keep in in mind that our policymakers are juggling many balls. This week, the juggling act started to play out, with the House and Senate each preparing initial versions of the state budget. A quick review of the competing spending proposals suggests that Senate and House members must not only juggle but dance together as well.
Following is a summary of issues important to The Florida Bar:
JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS
House Passes HJR 1
The Florida House of Representatives narrowly approved a measure to restrict Supreme Court justices and state appellate court judges to 12 years in office. The proposal is a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes. 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 was placed on the March 29 Special Order Calendar and passed the full House by a vote of 73-46. Under Article XI, Section 1, Florida Constitution, a proposed amendment to the constitution must be passed by a three-fifths vote of the membership of both houses of the Legislature to be placed on the ballot. In the House, that requires a vote of 72 members to pass.
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.
2017-18 LEGISLATIVE BUDGET PROCESS
This week, the House and Senate unveiled their initial spending plans. Over the next two weeks, each chamber will formalize a budget proposal. This process will put them into proper posture for a future budget conference process. The competing budget proposals contain a gap of roughly $2 billion, with the Senate proposing to spend $83.2 billion and the House proposing to spend $81.2 billion. Both budgets include provisions that allow agency heads, at their discretion, to pay for Florida Bar membership fees and CLE costs for employees who are required to be a member of the Bar as a condition of employment.
Highlights of the Senate budget include:
- Judicial pay increase: $38 million
Supreme Court justice: $162,200-$192,945
DCA judge: $154,140-$183,298
Circuit judge: $146,080-$173,651
County judge: $138,020-$164,003
- Pay increases for assistant public defenders: $5.2 million
- Funding for half of the State Courts Technology Comprehensive Plan: $14 million
- Additional case management resources: $1.4 million
- “Placeholder” funding for additional 3rd DCA Courthouse costs: $100,000
Highlights of the House budget include:
- Proviso language requiring the State Courts Administrator to prepare a report to the Legislature and governor for a budget-neutral pay model for judges that includes salary incentives and salary disincentives for judicial performance based on various criteria including: court accessibility and fairness, clearance rates, time to disposition, age of active pending cases, trial date certainty, reliability and integrity of case files, legal financial obligations, effective use of jurors, court employee satisfaction and cost per case.
- Proviso language requiring the State Courts Administrator to submit a plan, within existing dollars, for a statewide uniform case management database system for the purpose of caseload data collection and reporting. The courts and the clerks must work together to develop common definitions for all clerks and courts to use to ensure uniformity in reporting.
- Security and building upgrades for the 3rd DCA: $3.38 million
- Link to Senate budget: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/02500
- Link to House budget: http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?PublicationType=Committees&CommitteeId=2892&Session=2017&DocumentType=Proposed%20Committee%20Bills%20(PCBs)&FileName=PCB%20APC%2017-02.pdf
- Link to court’s Legislative Budget Request:
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
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 on March 22 and awaits action by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Judges and justices impacted by House proposal
The House Government Accountability Committee voted 14-8 on Wednesday for a measure that would place newly hired public employees in an investment 401(k)-styled plan if they fail to make a choice within six months of starting their jobs. Currently, those employees are placed in a traditional pension plan. The House measure also would prohibit future elected officials from enrolling in the pension plan. Moreover, the proposal also reduces the service accrual rate for purposes of calculating the pension plan benefit from 3.3 percent to 3.0 percent for justices and judges. Justices and judges are the only employees subject to the accrual rate reduction. The Senate budget does not contemplate this proposal.
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.
CONSTITUTION REVISION COMMISSION
Constitution panel met last week
The Constitution Revision Commission met in Orlando this week in the first of several public meetings on its “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour. The meeting was attended by more than 200 people. The remaining meetings of the tour will be held at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County on Thursday, April 6 from 5-8 p.m., and Florida Atlantic University in Palm Beach County on Friday, April 7 from 9 a.m.-noon. The meeting at the University of West Florida in Escambia County is being rescheduled. Following the tour, most of the work of the panel is expected to take place in the fall of 2017 and into 2018. 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.
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.