Wednesday marked the halfway point of the 2017 legislative session. Each chamber’s respective budget proposal is almost complete, in anticipation of the budget conference process. Both the House and Senate also are making progress on many significant policy issues – workers’ compensation, implementation of the medical marijuana amendment, higher-education reform and ethics legislation, to name just a few. The focus in the remaining weeks will be on bridging the policy and political differences between the chambers on these issues, and hundreds of others.
Following is a summary of issues important to The Florida Bar:
JUDICIAL TERM LIMITS
House Passes HJR 1; no movement in the Senate
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
The House and Senate made final tweaks to their respective budget proposals, moving closer to a final product for each chamber before beginning the budget conference process. The proposed General Appropriations Acts include full or partial support for some issues contained in the judicial branch’s legislative budget request (LBR), as well as funding for several issues that were not part of the branch’s LBR. (Special thanks to the Office of State Courts Administrators for providing budget-related information.)
Below are some highlights from the House and Senate budget recommendations in support of issues included in judicial branch budget request, as well as issues impacting government lawyers.
Trial Court Technology Comprehensive Plan: $14,041,339
Trial Court Case Management Support: $1,334,237
Completion of Third DCA Security and ADA project: $100,000
Increase in judicial pay:
- Supreme Court justices – from $162,200 to $192,945
- District court of appeal judges – from $154,140 to $183,298
- Circuit court judges – from $146,080 to $173,651
- County court judges – from $138,020 to $164,003
In addition, the Senate proposal includes an across-the-board pay increase, effective Oct. 1, 2017, of $1,400 for state employees with a base rate of pay of $40,000 or less and of $1,000 for state employees with a base rate of pay of over $40,000.
Completion of Third DCA Security and ADA project: $3,381,563
The House proposed budget also makes the following changes to the judicial branch budget:
- A reduction in travel expenditures in the trial court and OSCA portions of the budget, based on a review of the travel history of judges and certain staff, for a total of $532,740.
- Elimination of 39 unfunded positions in the trial court budget.
Both the House and Senate proposals include proviso language affecting the courts.
The Senate proviso creates a Florida Criminal Justice Reform Task Force within the Legislature for the purpose of conducting a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice system, court system and corrections system. Members of the task force include two circuit judges, two county court judges and a justice of the Supreme Court or judge of a district court of appeal, appointed by the chief justice.
The House proviso:
- Requires the Office of State Courts Administrators (OSCA) to submit quarterly reports to the Legislature and governor with specified information on all travel related to training, seminars, workshops, conferences or similarly purposed travel that was completed by judges, court administrators, senior management employees and division or program directors.
- Requires OSCA to prepare, by Dec. 1, 2017, a proposal for a budget-neutral performance pay model that objectively and uniformly measures judicial performance. Budget neutrality must be achieved within existing salary and benefit appropriations and must include salary incentives and disincentives.
- Requires OSCA to submit, by Dec. 1, 2017, a plan to develop, within existing appropriations, a statewide uniform case management database system for the purpose of caseload data collection and reporting.
Both the House and Senate proposals limit costs for lodging associated with a meeting, conference, or convention organized or sponsored in whole or in part by a state agency or the judicial branch to $150 per day. Employees may choose to expend their own funds for any lodging expenses in excess of the $150 per day limit.
Finally, both the House and Senate budgets contain 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.
- Link to Senate budget: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/02500
- Link to House budget: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/05001
- 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
House passes HB 301
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 5-0 on March 22 and awaits action by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Judges and justices impacted by House proposal
HB 5007 by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, passed the House Government Accountability Committee by a vote of 14-8 and has been placed on the April 12 Special Order Calendar. This bill 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. HB 5007 also would prohibit future elected officials from enrolling in the pension plan. 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
he Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) continues its “Floridians Speak, We Listen” tour. This week, the CRC met at Florida International University in Miami-Dade County on Thursday night and at Florida Atlantic University in Palm Beach County on Friday morning. The next meeting will be in Tallahassee on April 12, from 5-8 p.m. at Florida A&M University. 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.