2016 Legislative Session
Weekly Legislative Session Updates
Agendas jammed with bills and amendments were the norm in Week 6 of the nine-week session, with legislative committees winding down their work. The “strike-all” amendment, basically a proposed revision that deletes all of the original language from a bill and inserts entirely new language, was used regularly during marathon meetings. These amendments keep legislators, lobbyists and the general public on their toes as all parties hurriedly review the strike-all to assess its impact.
On the budget front, stay tuned for the conference process. Though so-called allocation amounts do not appear to be finally resolved, the Senate president and House speaker both stated that conference committees are expected to be announced and to begin work next week.
APPELLATE COURT TERM LIMITS
HJR 197 to be heard next week on the House floor; no movement on Senate bill
SJR 322 by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) and HJR 197 by Rep. John Wood (R-Winter Haven) propose a constitutional amendment to create term limits for Supreme Court justices and District Courts of Appeal judges. If approved by the voters, the amendment would limit Florida appellate justices and judges to two full six-year terms on the bench. Currently, the state Constitution does not limit the number of terms that justices or appeals court judges may serve, but it does include a mandatory retirement age of 70. The House legislation was amended to provide that the term limits will apply only prospectively to a justice or judge appointed to office after the effective date of the amendment.
On Dec. 4, The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors adopted the following position statement: “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 to meet with legislators to voice their opposition to this proposal.
HJR 197 passed all of its committees in the House, largely along partisan lines, and will be considered by the entire House on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.
The Senate Joint Resolution has yet to receive a hearing and has been referred to the following committees: Judiciary, Ethics and Elections, and Rules. The proposals would have to pass both chambers with a 60-percent vote in order to be placed on the ballot for consideration by the voters.
House passes compromise language; sends to Senate
The Legislature is close to finalizing a statutory response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida. The court’s Jan. 12 ruling found that the state’s system of giving judges – and not juries – the power to impose death sentences was an unconstitutional violation of defendants’ 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. A 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 and SB 7068 represent the Legislature’s response. Each bill requires unanimous jury decisions on at least one aggravating factor before recommending death. If the juries 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 the previous ability to override the jury and impose a death sentence. But the chambers have not agreed on whether a unanimous jury recommendation should be required before the death penalty can be imposed. The unanimous jury recommendation is included in the Senate proposal but not in the House proposal.
On Thursday afternoon, HB 7101 passed the entire House by a 93-20 vote, after the bill was amended with compromise language bringing it closer the Senate proposal. The amendment to HB 7101 requires that at least 10 of 12 jurors recommend execution for it to be imposed. The house bill previously would have allowed a 9-3 juror vote for a death sentence.
House and Senate pass initial budgets
The Florida Bar continues to meet with legislators on essential court funding issues such as pay increases, technology and facility improvements. The respective budgets of the House and Senate have significant differences, even in the funding of court system priorities. Any differences between the Senate and House budgets will be resolved during the conference process, which is anticipated to commence next week.
The Senate budget contains the following court system priorities:
- Staff Equity and Retention Pay: $5,900,000
- Trial Court Technology Comprehensive Plan: $4,676,209
- Trial Court Interpreting Resources: $483,292
- Trial Court Case Management Support: $3,470,377
The House budget does not fund any of the above court priorities at this time.
STATE APPELLATE COURTS
Senate and House budgets released
HB 815 by Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa) moves the headquarters of the 2nd District Court of Appeal from Lakeland to Tampa. The bill also provides additional flexibility to the state appellate court clerks regarding the physical location of court records in order to reflect the move toward electronic filing and storage. No Senate bill has been filed.
In addition, the House budget includes $100,000 for a second DCA facility space study in Tampa. However, the Senate has $500,000 for the repair and renovation of the roof of the 2nd District Court of Appeal Courthouse and the remediation of air quality in the building. The Senate budget also contains $7,275,757 for the completion of the 4th DCA building and $6,482,222 for the completion of the 3rd DCA security and ADA project.
STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS
SB 142 by Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) and HB 923 by Rep. Charles McBurney (R-Jacksonville) create the Greater Good Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program for attorneys employed by local, state or federal government agencies. The legislation limits the eligibility to attorneys employed for 10 years or fewer and earning a salary of less than $65,000 annually. The legislation also provides award amounts for attorneys based on specified eligibility criteria and provides loan payment requirements. Additionally, to be eligible for the program, an attorney must be a member in good standing of The Florida Bar without disciplinary action by the Bar.
HB 291 by Rep. Hazelle Rogers (D-Lauderhill) requires 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 has been referred to committees but has not been heard.
HB 4059 by Rep. John Tobia (R-Melbourne Beach) removes the provisions authorizing the Florida Supreme Court to admit a bar applicant who is an unauthorized immigrant. No Senate companion bill has been filed; HB 4059 has been referred to committees but has not yet had a hearing.
We hope you find this summary useful. Please email or contact us with any questions.
To monitor current 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.