Florida: Senate approves bill to levy civil fines and remove from office judges who try to stop the carrying of guns into courthouses

A bill that would allow the state’s Governor to remove judges who try and stop courthouse carry has been approved by the Florida Senate.

SB 616 generally keeps the state’s current prohibition on courthouse carry, but makes three key changes.

First, it provides when a gun license holder approaches security or management personnel upon arrival at a courthouse, the license holder may temporarily surrender their weapon or firearm to the security or management personnel, who shall store the weapon or firearm in a locker, safe, or other secure location and return the weapon or firearm to the licensee when he or she is exiting the courthouse.

As the legislative analysis for the bill notes, not all courthouses have such security checkpoints (footnote 16).

Second, the bill defines “courthouse”

the term “courthouse” means a building in which trials and hearings are conducted on a regular basis. If a building is used primarily for purposes other than the conduct of hearings and trials and housing judicial chambers, the term includes only that portion of the building that is primarily used for hearings and trials and judicial chambers.

Finally, the bill warns that any judge who issues an administrative order or rule to alter this definition faces fines and removal from office by the Governor.

A local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is in conflict with the definition of the term “courthouse” in this subsection or the rights set forth under subparagraph (12)(a)4 is preempted to the Legislature under s. 790.33. The person, justice, judge, county, agency, municipality, district, or other entity that enacts or causes to be enforced a local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is preempted is subject to the penalties set forth in s. 790.33, including, but not limited to, civil fines and removal from office by the Governor.

SB 616 was approved 19-15 with 5 not voting by the full Senate on April 28 and is now on the House Special Order calendar.

Florida: House considers cutting salaries of “poor performing” judges, transferring to “top performing” judges; 2011 effort for similar “judge bonuses” system rejected

The Florida legislature has reached a stalemate over the state’s budget. Among the issues being discussed, a House plan to reduce the pay of “poor performing” judges and transfer them to “top performing” judges.

Under the House plan (pages 62-86 here)

  • Judges ranked in the top 25 percent would receive a pay increase.
  • Judges ranked from 26 to 74 percent would maintain their base pay.
  • Judges ranked in the bottom 25 percent would have their pay cut. The savings would be transferred to the top performers.

Performance would be based on high clearance rates. Other possible measures include those from the CourTools set of measures (note: CourTools is a product on the National Center for State Courts; Gavel to Gavel is a NCSC product).

While the 2017 bill is coming from the House, a 2011 plan discussed here that made it through various Florida Senate committees would have provided for “bonuses”  judges who cleared cases/had a high clearance rate. That plan was ultimately rejected.

State legislatures debating use of dogs in courtrooms to calm, assist witnesses; bills out of committee in several states, enacted in Idaho

I mentioned in 2016 that there’s been an increasing number of bills introduced to address the use of animals in court proceedings to calm and assist witnesses. The 2017 session has continued this trend. The bills often contend with two issues: who can have access to such animals (children only? others?) and in what kinds of cases can such an animal be used (criminal? any?)

Alabama HB 393 and SB 273 would permit at the judge’s discretion registered therapy dogs into courtrooms to assist any victim or witness “to reduce unnecessary emotional distress experience by a victim or witness and allow full and factual testimony.” The District Attorney would have to provide instructions on court protocol to the handler. The bills also deal with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury and authorizes judges to use discretionary court funds to offset the costs for a registered handler for the therapy dog.

SB 273 was approved 7-0 by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday. HB 393 is in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security but has not yet come up for a hearing.

California AB 411 as amended focuses on 1) child witnesses in cases involving a serious or violation felony and 2) victims entitled under existing law to support persons. These individuals under the bill would be able to have access to a therapy or facility dog and defines these terms, subject to approval by a judge. The bill also deals with how to explain the presence of the dog to the jury.

AB 411 as amended was approved by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on March 15 and is currently on the Assembly floor (3rd Reading Calendar).

Connecticut HB 6999 as filed would have authorized the use of therapy dogs for those under the age of 18 in criminal cases.

During testimony on the bill by the Connecticut Judicial Branch, it was noted that the state’s supreme court had recently ruled that judges already have the inherent authority to allow for a therapy dog for any witness, in any court proceeding, and that therefore the bill as filed might have the effect of limiting the court’s ability to make such accommodations.

HB 6999 as amended, instead provides the Judicial Branch shall maintain on its website a section providing information regarding the availability of an accommodation, granted at the court’s discretion, for the presence of a dog to provide comfort and support for a child under the age of eighteen during such child’s testimony in the criminal prosecution of an offense involving the alleged assault, abuse or sexual abuse of such child. it also directs that trial judges be trained on this issue.

HB 6999 as amended was approved by the Joint Committee on Children on March 2 and remains pending.

Florida HB 151 amends an existing law that allows the court to use service or therapy animals in proceedings involving a sexual offense to assist a child victim or witness or a sexual offense victim or witness.

As amended, HB 151

  1. Expands the list of proceedings in which support animals may be used to include any proceeding involving child abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
  2. Expands the categories of allowable animals to include a “facility dog”;
  3. Allows a court to set any conditions it finds just and appropriate when taking the testimony of a person who has an intellectual disability, including the use of a therapy animal or facility dog;
  4. Removes the requirement for evaluation and registration of an animal pursuant to national standards, and replaces it with a requirement that an animal be trained, evaluated, and certified according to industry standards; and
  5. Provides definitions for the terms “facility dog” and “therapy animal.”

HB 151 was approved by the full Senate yesterday and is on its way to the governor. The Senate’s similar bill (SB 416) addressed the same issues and was approved on committee, but was ultimately shelved in favor of HB 151.

Idaho SB 1089 as enacted provides when a child is summoned as a witness in any hearing in a noncriminal matter that involves the abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child, including any preliminary hearing, notwithstanding any other statutory provision, a facility dog shall be allowed to remain in the courtroom at the witness stand with the child during the child’s testimony. The bill also defines what a “facility dog” is. SB 1089 was signed into law by the governor in March, with an effective date of July 1, 2017.

Maryland SB 77 amends a 2016 law (SB 1106) that created a pilot program for the use of both facility and therapy dogs with respect to child witnesses in criminal cases and limited the program to two counties (Anne Arundel and Harford). SB 77 would delete the word “criminal”, allowing for the use of such dogs in any case.

SB 77 was approved by the House on April 4 and is in back in the Senate pending transmission to the Governor.

Florida: bill approved in committee warns of civil fines and removal from office of judges by the Governor who try to stop the carrying of guns into courthouses

A bill that would allow the state’s Governor to remove judges who try and stop courthouse carry has been approved in a Florida Senate Committee.

SB 616 generally keeps the state’s current prohibition on courthouse carry, but makes three key changes.

First, it provides when a gun license holder approaches security or management personnel upon arrival at a courthouse, the license holder may temporarily surrender their weapon or firearm to the security or management personnel, who shall store the weapon or firearm in a locker, safe, or other secure location and return the weapon or firearm to the licensee when he or she is exiting the courthouse.

As the legislative analysis for the bill notes, not all courthouses have such security checkpoints (footnote 16).

Second, the bill defines “courthouse”

the term “courthouse” means a building in which trials and hearings are conducted on a regular basis. If a building is used primarily for purposes other than the conduct of hearings and trials and housing judicial chambers, the term includes only that portion of the building that is primarily used for hearings and trials and judicial chambers.

Finally, the bill warns that any judge who issues an administrative order or rule to alter this definition faces fines and removal from office by the Governor.

A local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is in conflict with the definition of the term “courthouse” in this subsection or the rights set forth under subparagraph (12)(a)4 is preempted to the Legislature under s. 790.33. The person, justice, judge, county, agency, municipality, district, or other entity that enacts or causes to be enforced a local ordinance, administrative rule, administrative order, or regulation that is preempted is subject to the penalties set forth in s. 790.33, including, but not limited to, civil fines and removal from office by the Governor.

SB 616 was approved by the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on March 23 and advanced by the House Rules Committee on March 28.

Florida: House votes to send term limits for appellate courts to voters by 1 vote; constitutional amendment now goes to Senate

A plan to impose term limits on Florida appellate judges narrowly passed the House earlier today. HJR 1 needed 60% (72 votes) to advance, it got only 73 votes vs. 46 no votes. By comparison, the 2016 version (HJR 197) cleared with 76 yes votes.

HJR 1 as approved by the House limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. It is specifically not retroactive and does not count any prior years of service on a court against a judge (“time served by the justice or district court judge in that office prior to January 9, 2019, shall not be included in the calculation of the total number of consecutive years served in that office.”)

The constitutional amendment now goes to the Senate.

Florida House votes tomorrow on term limits for appellate judges, over a dozen floor amendments filed by same representative who tried to create a “Scalia rule” in 2016

A plan to impose term limits on Florida’s appellate judges is set for a full House vote tomorrow and one House member has introduced over a dozen amendments to the bill.

HJR 1 as filed limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. It is specifically not retroactive and does not count any prior years of service on a court against a judge (“time served by the justice or district court judge in that office prior to January 9, 2019, shall not be included in the calculation of the total number of consecutive years served in that office.”)

A series of floor amendments, however, have been filed for consideration as part of the vote. All these amendments were offered up by the same Representative who tried to amend a “Scalia rule” into the 2016 version of appellate term limits. The “Scalia rule” would have prohibited Florida governors from appointing members of the Florida Supreme Court in their last year in office.

  1. Amendment 769097 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit on appellate judges and ends the state’s merit/commission system of selection, replacing it with governor-appointment with the judge requiring a 2/3rds majority of the House and Senate to be confirmed.
  2. Amendment 240027 puts a 28-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts (supreme and district court of appeal).
  3. Amendment 115709 puts a 24-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  4. Amendment 203245 puts a 20-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  5. Amendment 368361 puts a 16-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  6. Amendment 924205 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts.
  7. Amendment 439969 puts a 24-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  8. Amendment 221391 puts a 20-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  9. Amendment 961487 puts a 16-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  10. Amendment 221391 puts an 8-consecutive-years limit for district court of appeal judges only.
  11. Amendment 501941 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts and provides that judges of the court(s) may not represent a client before the court on which they served for 6 years after leaving the court.
  12. Amendment 728183 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts and provides that judges of the court(s) must disclose how much they were paid by clients to appear before the courts on which they served.
  13. Amendment 760147 puts a 12-consecutive-years limit for both appellate courts and provides that judges of the court(s) may not represent a client before any Florida state court for 2 years after leaving the court.

 

Special Edition: Florida fee/fine/cost legislation in the 2017 session

HB 1017 AS COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTED:

  •  Amends existing law requiring the clerk of court to enter into a payment plan with an individual whom the court determines is indigent for costs and allows clerks to enter into payment plans with anyone. Provides that the monthly payment amount may not exceed two percent of the person’s annual net income, divided by 12, without the consent of the applicant.
  • Provides clerk may not assess any surcharge to refer the account to a private attorney or collection agent.
  • Provides collection agent or private attorney may not impose any additional fees or surcharges other than the contractually agreed upon amounts.
  • Requires traffic citation forms including information indicating
    that a person may enter into a payment plan with the clerk of court to pay a penalty.
  • Requires traffic citation forms indicate that a person ordered to pay a penalty for a noncriminal traffic infraction who is unable to comply due to demonstrable financial hardship will be allowed by the court to satisfy payment by participating in community service.
  • In civil citations/failure to appear, provides person’s driver license may not be suspended solely for failure to pay a penalty if the person demonstrates to the court that he or she is unable to pay, as evidenced by the person providing documentation to the appropriate clerk of court.
    1. The person receives reemployment assistance or unemployment compensation;
    2. The person is disabled and incapable of self-support or receives benefits under the federal Supplemental Security Income program or the Social Security Disability Insurance Program;
    3. The person receives temporary cash assistance;
    4. The person is making payments in accordance with a confirmed bankruptcy plan under chapter 11, chapter 12, or chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code;
    5. The person has been placed on a payment plan or payment plans with the clerk of court which in total exceed what is determined to be a reasonable payment plan; or
    6. The person has been determined to be indigent after filing an application with the clerk of court
  • In criminal cases, may not be suspended solely for failure to pay a penalty or court obligation if the person demonstrates to the court, after the court orders the penalty or obligation and before the suspension takes place, that he or she is unable to pay the penalty or court obligation. Specifies documentation (same as civil citations/failure to appear list, above) that demonstrates person is considered unable to pay to include
  • For traffic infractions, requires court to determine at the time a civil penalty is ordered whether the person is able to pay the penalty.

Approved by House Appropriation’s Committee, Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee 3/14/17.

HB 547

Requires specified reduction for civil penalty under certain circumstances. Deletes requirement that specified percentage of civil penalty be deposited in State Courts Revenue Trust Fund. Requires person to pay clerk of court specified percentage previously deducted under certain circumstances. In House Appropriation’s Committee, Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

HB 1173 AS APPROVED IN SUBCOMMITTEE

  • Requires the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) to immediately suspend the motor vehicle registration for the first offense of failing to comply with a civil traffic infraction.
  • Keeps the existing driver license suspension penalty for a subsequent offense.
  • Allows the clerk of the court to authorize community service for indigent applicants for noncriminal traffic infractions and provides guidelines for authorizing community service. Courts can currently authorize community service if a person shows demonstrable financial hardship.

Approved by House Appropriation’s Committee, Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee 3/21/17.

SB 302 AS COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTED

  • Removes suspension and revocation penalties for a number of specified non-driving-related offenses
  • Allows individuals whose licenses are suspended for failure to comply with a court order or failure to pay court financial obligations to apply for a hardship license issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
  • Requires the court to inquire about a person’s financial ability to pay a fine at the time a civil penalty is ordered in court
  • Prohibits a Driver’s License (DL) from being suspended solely for inability to pay a financial penalty or court obligation if the individual demonstrates to the court that he or she cannot pay
  • Adds criteria of what evidence demonstrates to the court that a person is unable to pay
    1. The person receives reemployment assistance or unemployment compensation;
    2. The person is disabled and incapable of self-support or receives benefits under the federal Supplemental Security Income program or the Social Security Disability Insurance Program;
    3. The person receives temporary cash assistance;
    4. The person is making payments in accordance with a confirmed bankruptcy plan under chapter 11, chapter 12, or chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code;
    5. The person has been placed on a payment plan or payment plans with the clerk of court which in total exceed what is determined to be a reasonable payment plan; or
    6. The person has been determined to be indigent after filing an application with the clerk of court
  • Prohibits court-approved payment plans from exceeding two percent of an applicant’s income, unless approved by the applicant

Approved as substituted by Senate Transportation Committee 2/7/17.

SB 1574 See HB 1173 as filed. In Senate Criminal Justice Committee.