Senate holds nose and eyes Cannon’s court rewriteby John Kennedy | April 28th, 2011
House Speaker Dean Cannon’s landmark — and personal — push to revamp the Florida Supreme Court drew some harsh questioning, but is teed-up for an eventual Senate vote.
The Winter Park Republican effectively put budget talks on ice until Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander earlier this week put the court overhaul in play.
The measure would expand the seven-member Supreme Court by adding three justices, divide it into civil and criminal divisions, give the governor authority to appoint chief justices, and the Senate power to confirm new justices.
Cannon’s proposal emerged after the court last summer declared unconstitutional three ballot proposals approved by the Legislature — including one argued personally before justices by the speaker.
“Those who have put together the package of reform believe there is a problem,” said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, sponsor of the measure (CS/SJR 2084).
But Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, argued the rewrite would leave Florida with the largest Supreme Court in the nation. He also suggested there was no backlog in court cases that demanded the dramatic overhaul.
Before the measure goes to voters — where it would need 60 percent support to become law — it must first draw 60 percent support from senators, a tall order.
While the measure sailed through Cannon’s House, senators are mixed on the idea.
But getting a deal on the state budget also is likely hinged on Cannon getting his court proposal before voters.
In an apparent signal to fellow senators, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, gave the proposal veiled support, pointing out that legislators in the past have put ballot measures forward — only to later openly campaign against them.
A final vote is not likely until the waning hours of the session, when Cannon cannot do political damage to Senate priorities that now hang in the balance.