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Legislative Session Update – Week 9 March 5-11

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Week 9: March 5-11

 

Details on previous weeks are also available.

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

“Sine Die” – a Latin term meaning without day. Sine die is the phrase that marks the end of the legislative session. Rarely does Tallahassee’s political class like to include that phrase with the word “extension.” However, for the third time in four years the conclusion of the legislative session was postponed from Friday until Sunday. The legislature’s work on substantive legislation concluded on Friday and Sunday’s work focused exclusively on debate and final passage of the state budget. With the Parkland tragedy appropriately eclipsing the legislative process, giving the legislature a couple of more days to complete its regular business is recognized by most as an understandable delay.

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

2018-2019 FLORIDA STATE BUDGET

Legislature extends for budget final vote.

The 2018 Legislative Session concluded Sunday, March 11, with final action on Florida’s $88.7 billion state budget. The final Budget Conference Committee Report for HB 5001 includes the following items of interest to The Florida Bar:

  • Bar dues/CLE reimbursement for state employees.
  • No funding cuts to the court system and reinstates a $2-million cut that the trial courts sustained last fiscal year.  This was a key priority of the court system.
  • Salaries of Supreme Court Justices were increased from $178,420 to $220,600. Last session, all judges received a significant raise.  This session the legislature wanted to ensure that Supreme Court salaries are at a level sufficient enough to attract applicants for the three upcoming Supreme Court vacancies.
  • No funding cuts to benefits for the judicial assistants, as originally proposed.
  • Salary increases for assistant state attorneys and assistant public defenders.

APPOINTMENTS TO THE JUDICIAL NOMINATING COMMISSIONS

Failed to pass.

Four bills have been introduced for the 2018 Legislative Session dealing with appointments to the Judicial Nominating Commissions.

HB 753 by Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, and SB 1030 by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, revise the procedures for appointing members to JNCs. As originally filed, the bills removed nominations from the Florida Board of Governors to the governor. The House bill maintains the current JNC structure of twenty-six 9-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. SB 1030 was not 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). Neither bill was heard in any 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.

APPOINTMENT OF ATTORNEYS FOR DEPENDENT CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Passed.

SB 146 by Sens. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina, and Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and HB 57 by Reps. Frank White, R-Pensacola, and Patricia Williams, D-Ft. Lauderdale, authorize 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

Passed.

SB 222 by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and HB 6021 by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, R-St. Augustine, eliminate the future repeal of the guardian ad litem direct-support organization. On February 7, HB 6021 passed the full Senate by a vote of 35-0. The bill was sent to the Governor for final action on March 9.

JURISDICTION OF COUNTY COURTS

Failed to pass.

SB 1396 by Sens. Steube, R-Sarasota, and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and HB 7061 by the Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee increase the jurisdictional amount for civil county court cases to $50,000 from $15,000, effective date of July 1, 2019.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE DATA COLLECTION PROPOSAL

Passed.

HB 7071 by the House Judiciary Committee and SB 1218 by Sen. Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, are 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 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 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 legislature amended the provisions of this data collection onto SB 1392, a bill related to prearrest diversion programs.

CERTIFICATION OF JUDGES

Failed to pass.

The Senate and the House take different approaches to the certification issue.  HB 5301 by the House Subcommittee on Justice Appropriations conforms the number of trial court judgeships authorized by statute to the Florida Supreme Court’s latest certification of need for additional judges. Specifically, HB 5301 adds two circuit court judgeships to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, which includes Orange and Osceola Counties, and two county court judgeships to Hillsborough County. HB 5301 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, one from Collier County, one from Monroe County and one from Leon County. SB 1396 by Sen. Steube, R-Sarasota, also changes the number of trial court and county court judgeships authorized by statute. Specifically, SB 1396 adds two circuit judgeships to the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola Counties and adds five new county judgeships – two in Hillsborough County and one each in Citrus, Columbia and Flagler Counties.

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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.