At the beginning of the week the Senate announced an impasse with the House over budget negotiations, and indicated their willingness to extend the session or come back in a special budget session in the spring.
The main stumbling block dealt with the amount of cuts in the higher education budget. Within a few hours, both the Senate and House leaders indicated the impasse had been overcome and that official budget conferences would begin. Negotiations and agreements started coming quickly between the different budget conference committees that deal with education, health and human services, general government, transportation and civil and criminal justice appropriations. In order to finish on time, the budget bill must be printed and on the desks of legislators by next Tuesday night. It appears that will happen.
Negotiations between the House and Senate over the court budget are going smoothly. Neither chamber’s proposed budget contained any cuts to the funding for our courts.
The main differences are the amount of money for the courts to deal with the mortgage foreclosure backlog and the amount of general revenue dollars directed to stabilize court funding. The House budget has $5.7 million to address the foreclosure backlog, while the Senate has $2.4 million. The House and Senate both direct substantially more general revenues to court funding with less reliance on court filing fees. These differences are expected to be worked out over the weekend.
The budget for the Clerks of Court is not evolving as smoothly. During budget negotiations, the Senate proposed a $30 million cut to the clerks’ budget which could be potentially very harmful to their operations. The courts and the clerks continue to work together to ensure that the core court system does not sustain budget cuts.
CIVIL LEGAL ASSISTANCE FUNDING
At the start of budget negotiations, the House had only $100,000 appropriated for civil legal assistance funding while the Senate had $2 million. During early negotiations the House increased its offer to $500,000, then the Senate counter-offered at its original $2 million.
It now appears that the House is willing to increase its offer to $1 million which is consistent with funding levels from the Legislature in tight budget years.
MANDATORY RETIREMENT AGE FOR JUDGES
SB 408 by Senator David Simmons (R-Orlando) was approved by the Florida Senate 38-1. This legislation would place a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges, from 70 to 75. If approved, the measure would become effective January 1, 2013 and would only apply to justices and judges elected or appointed on or after that date. Sen. Simmons argued that the higher retirement age was the trend in other states and it would allow Florida to also benefit from the experience of older judges.
The measure passed after an amendment was offered and later withdrawn that would have increased the current minimum five years of membership in The Florida Bar as a prerequisite to being a circuit or county judge, to 10 years of Bar membership. Ten years is the current minimum requirement for appellate judges in Florida, but not for trial judges. The amendment was sponsored by Senator Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) but withdrawn after additional debate.
The bill now moves to the House where its companion legislation – HB 345 by Representative Peter Nehr (R-Tarpon Springs) – has never been heard in a committee.
JUDICIAL NOMINATING COMMISSIONS
Late last week, the House approved HB 971 by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Ft. Walton Beach). The legislation does not change the Bar’s involvement in the JNC process nor change the staggered terms of Bar nominees appointed by the Governor. The legislation would change the staggered terms of JNC members not nominated by the Bar to terms of service “at the pleasure” of the Governor.
Another provision of the bill dealing with scholarships for minority law students was amended to change the source of funding from election filing fees to general revenue. In addition, the House measure would eliminate the statewide judicial nominating commission for judges of compensation claims and instead rely on the 1st DCA JNC to recommend those judges.
The Senate companion – SB 1570 by Sen. Simmons – was withdrawn from its last committee of reference and placed on the calendar making it available for floor action during the last week of the session.
Information on all bills of general interest within the profession can be found in the Bar’s “2012 Bill Reports” at this link:
For more detailed information on specific legislation being tracked by the Bar, visit the Legislation Committee’s webpage on the Bar website at this link: