Last week I noted that the Florida House had abandoned efforts to tie changes to the state’s merit selection system to changes in state judicial retirement benefits, instead opting to tie them funding for women/minority law student scholarship. Earlier today, however, the Senate proceeded with its version, despite passage of the House bill last week.
HB 971 and SB 1570, as introduced, would allow newly elected governors to replace a majority of the state’s judicial nominating commissions. Currently, those 5 members chosen exclusively by the governor serve 4 year terms, meaning some are carry-overs from the prior governor. The governor also picks 4 additional members, but they are from names submitted by the state bar.
Both bills started off with a direct tie to judicial retirement benefits: retired judges and justices called back into temporary service by the Chief Justice would still be eligible for benefits under the Florida Retirement System.
The House bill, however, changed this provision and instead tied the merit selection change to funding for women/minority law student scholarships. That version passed the House 77-35 on February 24.
Today (March 6) on the Senate floor, that chamber opted to pass its own version (SB 1570) without the women/minority law student scholarships but with the original judicial retirement tie-in. Interestingly, three amendments were offered by the author, two of which were withdrawn.
- Amendment 661818 would have decoupled the link between judicial retirement benefits and the merit selection changes. It was withdrawn.
- Amendment 346746 appears to have maintained the link but made some technical changes. It too was withdrawn.
- Amendment 829544 changes the language with respect to current judicial nomination commission members would be forced off, providing those picked under the current policy of 4-year terms would not be immediately forced off. It then makes clear that both retired judges and justices would be eligible to keep their benefits if recalled to temporary service. But it makes even this conditional on a future appropriation to pay for it:
Section 8.?[The judicial retirement sections of the bill] shall take effect only if:
(1)?The Legislature appropriates during the 2012 Legislative Session the sum of at least $1.6 million from the General Revenue Fund on a recurring basis to the judicial branch in order to fund the increased employer contributions associated with the costs of the retirement benefits granted in this act; and
(2)?The State Courts Administrator certifies to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the appropriation was made and that the appropriation was not vetoed by the Governor.
The bill, as amended by Amendment 829544, was advanced to third reading.