Most Floridians are unaware and quite frankly are unaffected by the fact that the 2016 Legislative Session will start January 12, 2016 as opposed to its normal March start date. During the 2014 session, the legislature passed a bill requiring the 2016 regular session of the Legislature to convene on January 12th. It is an attempt to get elected officials home earlier in spring to spend time with their families and some speculate to jump start the campaign season – I know hard to believe that the 2016 campaign season hasn’t even begun.
The more important question is, “why should you as a young lawyer care?” During a typical legislative session roughly 300 pieces of legislation are passed (take the 2015 legislative meltdown out of the equation) including the State’s $11B budget. Some legislation is as innocuous as the creation of new license plates to allowing rural mail carriers to drive without seat belts while on their routes. Other legislation, however, drastically alters how we, as attorneys, practice and counsel our clients. In April 2013, the Florida legislature passed House Bill 7015, which eliminated Florida’s reliance on the Frye standard for the admission of expert testimony or how about in 2015, when the legislature made revenge porn illegal and made it illegal to use drones to photograph or record images of people or images of people on their property from the air. Let’s also not forget that nestled in that $11B budget is the money for our judicial system, which includes the courthouses, our judges, clerks, state attorneys and public defenders.
Webster’s definition of a lawyer is a person whose job is to guide and assist people in matters relating to the law. In order to do our jobs and to counsel our clients, we must know and understand the law, which means we must be aware when those laws change and new ones are created. Each year the legislature passes new laws or modifies existing ones that impact our practice areas and potentially would alter the advice we give to our clients. We have an ethical and professional obligation to engage and be cognoscente of what happens during those chaotic 60 days of our annual legislative session.
Now that the year of special sessions is over, the message from the House that there will be no Medicaid expansion has been heard loud and clear by the Senate and the Senate has selected its next Senate President after years of a contentious and debilitating inner-chamber battle, what will be the key issues keeping us on our toes? There will be the typical issues debated concerning guns; gaming (will fantasy football be a thing of the past?); school testing; health care; tax cuts; and the popular transportation network companies like Uber.
Special interest and attention should be given to the following set of bills. First and possibly most impactful to our profession are bills HB 197 / SB 322 relating to Term Limits for Appellate Courts. Both the Florida Bar Board of Governors and the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors have voted to oppose this legislation and will be actively lobbying against its passage. The bills would propose an amendment to the State Constitution to create term limits for judges. Second, the YLD’s top legislative priority will be fighting for the passage of SB 142 / HB 923 creating “For the Greater Good”, a loan assistance program for young lawyers working in the public sector. Another big issue we all should be monitoring is the infamous alimony reform bills HB 455 / SB 668 / SB 250. Will this be the year that there will be alimony reform or will the Governor veto the bill again? The legislature will also take up measures to overhaul the forensic mental health system, how prejudgment interest is calculated, and the possibility of eliminating PIP.
Regardless of which side of the isle you sit on or the type of law you practice, we are all impacted by what happens in Tallahassee. If you would like to get involved or would like additional information, you can follow me on twitter at @nikkifried or feel free to contact me at email@example.com. As the ones privileged and vested with the responsibility of advising the public to their legal rights and obligations, we have a duty to pay attention!
Nicole “Nikki” Fried heads up Colodny Fass’s South Florida Government Relations Division and spends significant time in Tallahassee. She graduated from the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida in 2003. She is appointed to the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Board Governors and serves as the Board’s Chair of their Legislative Committee.