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January 1, 2012
Board lays out legislative communications effort

Focus will be on keeping members informed

The 2012 legislative session will begin on January 10, and with it comes a new Bar plan for keeping members informed of Bar-related legislative activities.

Ed ScalesThe session is also expected to be less contentious than the 2011 version, which saw attempts to remake the Supreme Court, remove the Bar from its participation in choosing some members of judicial nominating commissions, and have the Legislature take over from the Supreme Court the writing of court procedural rules.

“Reapportionment will take all of the oxygen out of the room,” Bar Chief Legislative Counsel Steve Metz told the Bar Board of Governors on December 9. “That’s good news for us; it takes legislators’ eyes off us and the courts — maybe.”

Legislation Committee Co-chair Ed Scales said the Bar will begin its new legislative communications program for Bar members on January 1. It begins with a letter from Bar President Scott Hawkins to all Bar members, explaining what the Bar can and cannot do in the legislative arena. That letter is published in this Bar News and will also be emailed to Bar members and placed on the Bar’s website.

The letter also explains that the Bar will be closely monitoring any legislation affecting its official platform and will post an update every Friday on those and other matters that may affect the Bar.

The legislative outreach, Scales said, is a joint effort of the Legislation and Communications committees.

A piece of good news, even before the session begins, is that Gov. Rick Scott, in his proposed budget, suggested keeping funding for Florida courts at its current level and also shoring up shaky court finances with general revenues. The courts had been heavily dependent on filing fees from foreclosure cases. But a dramatic drop in those filings had left giant holes in the court budget and forced the courts to borrow funds from the state to stay open.

Scales called Scott’s budget “very, very good news.”

Metz said Scott’s proposal also builds upon the recommendations of a Supreme Court workgroup set up to study and make recommendations about the court system’s financial problems.

He added, though, that while Scott’s proposed budget was positive news, “The governor proposes the budget, but the Legislature writes it.”

Metz said that Bar President Scott Hawkins and President-elect Gwynne Young have been busy meeting with legislators to avoid surprises like last year’s court-altering bills.

He said, however, that bills can be expected that will affect judicial nominating commissions, but that they will not address the Bar’s role in nominating JNC commissioners.

(Currently the governor directly appoints five of the nine members on each JNC, then appoints the other four from candidate slates submitted by the Bar. One of last year’s bills would have removed the Bar from the process and allowed direct gubernatorial appointment of all JNC members with terms concurrent with the governor.)
“We don’t expect there will be any other major court reform,” Metz added.

[Revised: 10-03-2012]