Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Politics

Bill to give Rick Scott more power to pick judges stalls

TALLAHASSEE — A proposal to give Gov. Rick Scott more power over the courts appeared dead Wednesday amid a disagreement on whether Scott should be able to fire people appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist to a panel that helps select judges.

The panels, known as Judicial Nominating Commissions, screen potential judicial nominees for the governor. A House bill, HB 971, would allow Scott to fire Crist's appointees and replace them with his own.

Sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said the proposal would allow voters to hold Scott more accountable for the decisions made by state judges.

But the Senate amended the provision Wednesday so that it would not apply retroactively to Crist's appointees. Senate sponsor Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said Scott had no intention of terminating Crist's appointments anyway. "Gov. Scott agreed to it without any hesitation," Simmons said.

Gaetz said the change defeats the purpose of the bill and he would not bring the amended measure back to the House floor before the session is scheduled to conclude Friday.

"The Senate bill preserves the dead hand of Charlie Crist," Gaetz said. "So the issue's dead."

The Senate bill passed 24-14, with Republican Sens. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, joining Democrats in opposition.

Democrats said the proposal consolidated too much power in the hands of the governor. Some said they would not be okay with the proposal even if Florida had a Democratic governor.

"Be careful what you ask for because next time it'll be somebody else of another party," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "Even under those circumstances, it's not the right thing to do."

While circuit and county judges in Florida are elected by voters to six-year terms, the governor has the power to fill vacant seats. The governor, with input from the JNC, appoints all state Supreme Court and appellate justices. Voters are asked whether to retain those appointees every six years.

Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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