The Florida Bar

Legislative Session Update – Week 7 February 19-23

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Week 7: February 19-23

 

Details on previous weeks are also available.

A list of Florida Bar positions on legislative issues is available here.

The legislature concluded Week 7 of its nine-week session. Well, maybe its nine-week session. Week 7 is when rumors of extending the session or taking a break and coming back in a special session are the norm. Legislative negotiations on the budget often teeter on the brink before resolution. This week, House Speaker Richard Corcoran stated that the Senate has refused to start budget negotiations and accused the Senate of behaving “like kindergarteners.” The Senate’s response came from Sen. Rob Bradley, who called Corcoran’s statement “odd and unbecoming.” Despite the rhetoric, budget negotiations must begin soon, or the Week 7 rumors will become reality.

Following is a summary of issues important to The Florida Bar:

APPOINTMENTS TO THE JUDICIAL NOMINATING COMMISSIONS

No movement.

Four bills have been introduced dealing with appointments to the Judicial Nominating Commissions.

HB 753 by Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, and SB 1030 by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, revise the procedures for appointing members to JNCs. As originally filed, the bills removed nominations from The Florida Bar Board of Governors to the governor. On Jan. 30, HB 753 was revised and passed by the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee by a narrow margin of 8-6.

The amended bill maintains the current JNC structure of 26 nine-member JNCs, keeps five members of each JNC appointed solely by the governor, and keeps four-year terms. This revised bill changes the method of selection of the four remaining members of each JNC to provide for appointment by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives. Each leader will appoint two members of each JNC. Before each appointment, The Florida Bar must recommend three qualified individuals, and the president or speaker must publish a list of the individuals the president or speaker is considering for appointment, which list must include the individuals recommended by The Florida Bar. Appointments will be staggered. The bill creates a transition rule and provides that current members of JNCs will serve the remainder of their terms unless removed for cause. The Senate companion measure, SB 1030 has not been heard in any committees.

Two other bills, SB 420 by Criminal Justice Chairman Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, and HB 477 by Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, 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 would revise the composition of judicial nominating commissions (JNCs) to include:

  • Three members of The Florida Bar, appointed by the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar, who are engaged in the practice of law, each of whom is a resident of the territorial jurisdiction served by the commission to which the member is appointed.
  • Three members appointed by the governor, each of whom is a resident of the territorial jurisdiction served by the commission to which the member is appointed, of which only two may be members of The Florida Bar engaged in the practice of law.
  • Three members, each of whom is a resident of the territorial jurisdiction served by the commission to which the member is appointed, and who are not members of The Florida Bar and are not engaged in the practice of law, selected and appointed by a majority vote of the members of the commission.

Additionally, the legislation stipulates that no more than five members of each commission may be of the same political party and establishes additional restrictions regarding JNC members. JNC commissioners are also prohibited from serving more than two full terms and effective July 1, 2018, the terms of all current JNC members are terminated. The legislation stipulates staggered terms for the subsequent appointments of new members. The bills also require appointing authorities to collect and release certain demographic data regarding commission members and applicants to commissions.

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

No movement.

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.

APPOINTMENT OF ATTORNEYS FOR DEPENDENT CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Passed.

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. On Feb. 14, SB 146 was substituted for the House companion measure on the House floor, and the House passed the Senate bill by a vote of 109-0. The bill will now be sent to the governor for his final action.

GUARDIAN AD LITEM DIRECT-SUPPORT ORGANIZATION

Passed.

SB 222 by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, and HB 6021 by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-St. Augustine, eliminates the future repeal of the guardian ad litem direct-support organization.

SB 222 was considered by the full Senate on Feb. 1, and HB 6021 was substituted for the Senate bill. On Feb. 7, HB 6021 passed the full Senate by a vote of 35-0. The bill will now be sent to the governor for his action

JURISDICTION OF COUNTY COURTS

Two committee hearings remain on Senate Bill; House bill advances.

SB 1384 by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and HB 7061 by the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee amend s. 34.01, F.S., which defines the county courts’ jurisdiction over certain types of cases and subject matters. SB 1384 initially increased the jurisdictional amount of the cases the county court may decide to $100,000 and required that the jurisdictional amount be adjusted for inflation or deflation every 10 years after July 1, 2018, using the reports and data provided by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics or its predecessor. On Feb. 13, SB 1384 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 10-0 as a committee substitute. The bill was amended to change the county court jurisdictional amount to $50,000 and delayed the implementation until Jan. 1, 2020. It does not increase filing fees. The amended Senate bill also allows for private chambers for Supreme Court justices in courthouses or other appropriate facilities in the justice’s district of residence. It authorizes subsistence and travel reimbursement. It also increases the number of circuit judges in the 9th Circuit from 43 to 45. HB 7061 also increases the jurisdictional threshold between county courts and circuit courts from $15,000 to $50,000 through June 30, 2020, and adjusts it thereafter by the Consumer Price Index. It increases the filing fees for claims of more than $15,000 to $395. It provides for the distribution of the funds. The $1 filing fees for mediation and arbitration may not be an appeal from county to circuit court for claims over $15,000. On Feb. 21, HB 7061 passed the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 15-0, its final hearing. The Senate bill is in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice and must also be heard by the full Appropriations Committee.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE DATA COLLECTION PROPOSAL

House passes “Gold Standard” legislation and Senate bill is amended.

HB 7071 by the House Judiciary Committee is aimed at having more open and transparent data within the criminal justice system. Under the proposal, clerks of court, state attorneys, public defenders, county jail operators and the Department of Corrections (DOC) would be required to submit specific data elements on a weekly basis to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). FDLE will publish the data on the department’s website and make it searchable by data element, county, circuit and unique identifier. The unique identifier would be created by FDLE to identify a specific subject of a criminal case in order to track that person’s experience in the criminal justice system. DOC would be required to report and publish, on a quarterly basis, inmate admissions by offense type and recidivism rates. Recidivism is redefined to include rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration and probation revocation within a three-year period. The House committee bill passed the House by a vote of 112-1 on Feb. 21. The provisions of the House bill were included in the Proposed Committee Substitute for SB 1678 recommended by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice by a vote of 7-0. However, PCS/SB 1218 is not on the Senate Appropriations Committee agenda for Feb. 27, which appears to be the last Appropriations Committee meeting scheduled.

CERTIFICATION OF JUDGES

No movement on House side in Week 7.

CS/SB 1396 by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and HB 5301 by the House Subcommittee on Justice Appropriations conform the number of trial court judgeships authorized by statute to the Florida Supreme Court’s latest certification of need for additional judges. Specifically, the bills add two circuit court judgeships to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, which includes Orange and Osceola counties, and two county court judgeships to Hillsborough County. The bills also decreases the number of county court judgeships as follows: one from Escambia County, two from Pasco County, one from Putnam County, one from Alachua County, one from Polk County, three from Brevard County, one from Charlotte County and one from Collier County. Although the court decertified the need for one county court judge in Monroe County, CS/SB 1396 does not reduce the number in Monroe County, while HB 5301 reduces the number from four to three. On Feb. 8, HB 5301 passed the House chamber by a vote of 111-0 and was immediately certified to the Senate for consideration during the upcoming budget conference negotiations. On Feb. 14, CS/SB 1396 passed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice by a vote of 6-0. Among other changes, the Senate bill was amended to increase the number of county judges in Citrus, Columbia and Flagler Counties from one to two and in Hillsborough County from 17 to 19. The Senate bill has one committee hearing left in the Appropriations Committee, and it is not on the Feb. 27 committee agenda.

2018-2019 FLORIDA STATE BUDGET

Waiting on conference process to begin.

The House and Senate Chambers are now postured for budget conference, but the two sides have not yet agreed upon budget allocations that are necessary to begin the conference process. Members of the conference committees or “conferees” have not been named. 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. The Florida Bar continues to meet with legislators on essential court funding issues such as pay increases, technology and facility improvements.

The Senate budget bill is SB 2500 while the House plan is HB 5001.

This session, the House will host the budget conference process.

Link to the court’s legislative budget request: http://floridafiscalportal.state.fl.us/Publications.aspx?AgyID=2200

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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.