Legislative Session Update – Week 1 January 9-12
The 2018 Legislative Session officially began Jan. 9 after months of preparation and an extensive interim committee meeting process. Gov. Rick Scott gave his final State of the State Address, citing his accomplishments as governor and laying out a legislative agenda focused on tax relief, fighting the opioid epidemic and investing in infrastructure and education. House Speaker Richard Corcoran presented a reform agenda for his chamber with a continued focus on governmental accountability, while Senate President Joe Negron targeted sexual harassment, the opioid crisis and higher education accountability as key goals. The session quickly moved into the hectic pace of legislative committee meetings and floor activity on some of the policy initiatives outlined by each chamber.
Following is a summary of issues important to The Florida Bar:
APPOINTMENTS TO THE JUDICIAL NOMINATING COMMISSIONS
Four bills have been introduced dealing with appointments to the Judicial Nominating Commissions.
Two bills fall under the provisions supporting a merit-based process for selection judges through independent judicial nominating commissions, SB 420 by Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, and HB 477 by Reps. Al Jacquet, D-West Palm Beach, and Robert Asencio, D-Miami.
These two bills would reinstate the composition of the judicial nominating commissions as it existed in § 20(5), Fla. Const. and § 43.29, Fla. Stat. (2000). The bills also would provide that five members of each commission could not be from the same political party. The members of the commissions could not serve on more than one commission, serve as a member of a judicial qualifications commission, hold any elective or appointive state, federal or other pollical office, or be appointed to any state judicial office for two years after serving on a commission.
Two other bills fall under the provisions opposing any changes to the current JNC process that would impair the independence of the commissions.
HB 753 by Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, would remove the Florida Bar member appointments to the commissions recommended to the governor by The Florida Bar Board of Governors. Instead, the bill would provide that the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives would each appoint two Florida Bar members to the commissions.
Status: Referred to Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee and Judiciary Committee.
SB 1030 by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, would also remove the Florida Bar member appointments to commissions recommended to the governor by The Florida Bar Board of Governors. It would provide that the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives recommend to the governor at least three, but no more than six, nominees for each of the four positions required to be Florida Bar members.
Status: Referred to Judiciary, Ethics and Elections, and Rules Committees.
The Florida Bar supports a merit-based process for selecting Florida judges through independent judicial nominating commissions and opposes any changes to the current JNC process that would impair the independence of the commissions.
LEGISLATIVE REVIEW OF FEDERAL AND STATE COURT RULINGS
Status: Referred to Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, Local, Federal, and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, and Judiciary Committee.
HM 137 by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, petitions the U.S. Congress to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution to provide “that any law, resolution, or other legislative act declared void by the United States Supreme Court or a United States court of appeals may be deemed active and operational if agreed to by Congress pursuant to a joint resolution adopted by a 60 percent vote of each chamber within 5 years the ruling becomes final.” It also includes in the amendment that “any state law, resolution, or other legislative act declared void by the respective state’s appellate or highest court may be deemed active and operational, notwithstanding the court’s ruling, if agreed to by such respective state’s legislature pursuant to a joint resolution adopted by a 60 percent vote of each chamber of such state’s legislature within 5 years after the date the ruling becomes final, unless such 60 percent vote threshold is revised by such state through its constitutional amendment process.”
There is no companion measure in the Senate.
The Florida Bar opposes amendment to the United States Constitution that restricts or overturns the courts’ authority to review the constitutional validity of legislation.
PAYMENT OF BAR DUES AND CLE
Status: Referred to Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and Appropriations Committee. Passed favorably by Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. Now in Appropriations Committee.
HB 2319 filed by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, provides an appropriation of $1.3 million for the payment of Florida Bar dues and continuing legal education courses for state employees. The House of Representatives Appropriations process requires the filing of separate budget bills for funding requests for nonrecurring local projects, programs or budget proviso. A requisite Senate companion budget bill is not required under Senate Rules.
The Florida Bar supports language in the Legislative Appropriations Act to permit the payment of government attorneys’ Florida Bar membership fees and continuing legal education costs from funds within budget entities.
APPOINTMENT OF ATTORNEYS FOR DEPENDENT CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
Status: SB 146 referred to Judiciary Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and Appropriations Committee. Passed all committees of reference and is on the Senate Calendar. HB 57 referred to Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, and Judiciary Committee. Passed all committees of reference and is on the House Calendar.
SB 146 by Sens. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, and Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, and HB 57 by Reps. Frank White, R-Pensacola, and Patricia Williams, D-Fort Lauderdale, authorizes the payment of due process costs when a court-appointed pro bono attorney represents a dependent child with special needs. The due process costs include the costs of court reporting and transcriptions, expert witnesses, mental health professionals, reasonable pretrial consultation fees and costs, and certain travel expenses.
GUARDIAN AD LITEM DIRECT-SUPPORT ORGANIZATION
Status: SB 222 Referred to Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and Appropriations Committee. Now in Appropriations Committee. HB 6021 Referred to Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee and Judiciary Committee. Passed all committee of reference and is on the House Calendar.
JURISDICTION OF COUNTY COURTS
Status: Referred to Judiciary Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and Appropriations Committee.
SB 1384 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, increases the limit of the amount in controversy in county court from $15,000 to $100,000. The legislation also requires an adjustment to the limit for inflation every 10 years. No House companion measure has been introduced yet, and no committee hearings have been held on the Senate bill.
2018-2019 COURT LEGISLATIVE BUDGET REQUEST
The Florida Bar continues to meet with legislators on essential court funding issues such as pay increases, technology and facility improvements. Among the specific funding priorities contained in the judicial branch’s legislative budget request are:
- A multi-year strategy to fully restore judicial salaries to a competitive level, while continuing to benchmark judicial salaries consistent with Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.244(b).
- Phase II to address equity, recruitment and retention issues. The total request is $11,275,855. In the Fiscal Year 2014-15 legislative budget request, the judicial branch requested $18,828,193 in a recurring salary appropriation, phased in over two years. The Legislature provided $8,132,614 for first-year implementation. That funding assisted the judicial branch in making significant headway in addressing recruitment, retention and salary equity between the branch and other governmental entities for similar positions and duties.
- Supreme Court workload issue of $162,124 ($3,800 nonrecurring) for Reporter of Decisions and information technology support staff (2 FTE).
- $8,196,359 in fixed capital outlay for the Second District Court of Appeal new courthouse site acquisition and design.
- For the trial courts, a request of $8,529,569 ($2,870,398 nonrecurring) for funding for new Court Interpreting Resources; and a request of $3,344,075 ($119,950 nonrecurring) for additional Case Management Resources (50 FTE). Also, a restoration of reductions in base salaries of $2,000,000 and specific child support interpreting service in the 11th Judicial Circuit of $75,000 federal grant trust fund.
- A request of $2,015,029 in General Revenue ($1,084,449 nonrecurring) for the Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) to implement the DCA continuity of operations and disaster recovery plan, the information technology security assessment, Florida’s Problem-Solving Courts, Access to Justice-Do It Yourself Florida program for underserved populations, online legal research for the court system, judicial data management and uniform case reporting, and information technology support for the court system. $120,380 ($3,800 nonrecurring) in federal grants for the child support hearing officer training and support program.
- Request of $25,907,787 ($7,847,742 nonrecurring) in General Revenue and 70 FTEs to fund a comprehensive strategy for addressing the statewide technology needs of the trial courts.
Link to the court’s legislative budget request: http://floridafiscalportal.state.fl.us/Publications.aspx?AgyID=2200
We hope you find these summaries useful.
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.