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November 1, 2013
Bar prepares for the legislative session

Improving revenues for state government could help get a pay raise for judicial branch employees, which has long been a goal of the Florida courts and The Florida Bar.

Legislation Committee Chair Jay Cohen reported to the Board of Governors last month that state economists have projected a $1 billion increase in state revenues for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

“What’s that really good for from our concern is funding for the courts,” Cohen said.

He also said that Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has expressed an interest in fixing the low salaries of judicial branch employees, something the Supreme Court has sought to have addressed for several years (see story, here).

“At a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Sen. Negron identified that there is an abundance of evidence that the salaries for court employees are substantially less than for other state agencies and the court is losing good employees because of this imbalance,” Cohen said. “He hopes to address that with this billion dollars of projected revenue.”

On another subject, he said the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee expects to hear a report in December from a subcommittee tasked earlier this year by Chief Justice Ricky Polston to look at procedural rules for post-conviction appeals in death penalty cases. The Legislature earlier this year passed the Timely Justice Act aimed at streamlining those appeals, but lawmakers held off addressing procedural rules in that law after Polston appointed his panel.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee also is looking at a subject that the Bar will be following, a workshop meeting on the Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510. Cohen said that Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, is interested in that topic.

“From what we understand, Rep. Metz is looking at this from an aspect of trying to get the Florida rule of summary procedure more likened to or akin to the federal rules,” he said. That would allow an interlocutory appeal of a denial of a summary judgment motion before a case proceeds.

In response to a question from Bar President Eugene Pettis, Cohen said the committee is also laying the groundwork for the upcoming Constitution Revision Commission, a once-every-20-years group that will propose constitutional amendments to voters in the 2018 general election. That group is expected to begin its work in 2016.

“We want to make sure we’re in front of this curve; otherwise we’re going to get hit by a big curve ball,” Cohen said.

[Revised: 03-26-2014]