House Judiciary Committee maps out session topics

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House Judiciary Committee members and the lobbyists and state officials who follow them got a glimpse Wednesday of what the next year will bring as the committee chairman laid out a series of topics from expert witness qualifications to foreclosures that are expected to make up the panel’s work, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Chairman Dennis Baxley said subcommittees would do most of the heavy lifting this session, with major revisions and a bulk of the public testimony being vetted at that level and not before the committee as a whole.

The Judiciary Committee’s Civil Justice Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha. The criminal justice subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

“I really encourage members to work through (those two) chairs,” Baxley said.

Among the panel’s priorities, Baxley mentioned recent efforts backed by the Florida TaxWatch and Associated Industries of Florida to reduce Florida’s prison population through alternative sentencing. Baxley said the committee is awaiting a formal recommendation later this month from a panel set up to address that idea.

Dubbed “smart justice” the idea centers on alternatives to incarceration and includes a bevy of initiatives from diversion of non-violent criminals to substance abuse programs and other lower cost approaches to public safety.

“This will likely be a lengthy, several year process, turning the ship in a smarter direction,” Baxley said. “…We want to not only be accountable but smarter about critical justice.”

Other issues expected to be at least considered this session include:

THE COURTS: Anticipate bills to further spell out what the duties are for the courts and the clerks of court, and how each is funded.

BUSINESS LAW: Revising the state’s Uniform Limited Liability Company Act.

CIVIL LAW: Electronic filing of civil actions will again be addressed by the committee. Other issues include revisions to arbitration codes and procedures and local wage ordinances.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The panel is expected to address a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that prevent juvenile offenders from being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The rulings raise questions for the application of certain state mandatory minimum sentencing laws, like 10-20-Life, which sometimes require a life sentence.

EXPERT TESTIMONY: Expect a repeat of sessions past as lawmakers again pit Daubert against Frye as the trial bar and business groups again wrangle over what qualifications expert witnesses must have to be considered experts, and whether the courts should use the so-called “Daubert standard” or the “Frye standard.”

TORT REFORM: Along with expert testimony, other tort issues expected to arise this session include third party excess liability, evidence standards for compensatory damages and changes to state medical malpractice law.

FAMILY LAW: Bills dealing with ways to standardize procedures in the termination of parental rights are expected to be addressed. Changes to state law regarding alimony and the division of assets are also expected.

WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS: The Florida Innocence Commission in June released a slate of recommendations that are expected to at least get a look this session. The commission dealt with issues of wrongful conviction, eye witness identification, jailhouse snitches and improperly gathered scientific evidence.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.