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Senate plans to strip Cannon’s court overhaul, send it back

Monday, May 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate may “the most conservative Senate ever,” as President Mike Haridopolos boasted at the onset of the legislative session.

But it’s apparently not conservative enough to pass House Speaker Dean Cannon’s sweeping overhaul of the Supreme Court that would, among other things, split the court in two.

As the clock winds down until lawmakers sine die on Friday, the Senate plan today is to remove at least that part of the proposed constitutional amendment, keep the provision allowing the legislature to have control over the court’s rules and send it back to the House for another vote.

“Our members have felt pretty strongly about splitting up the Supreme Court,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. “What you’re going to see is an option sent back to the House.”

Senate GOP leaders (who have a 28-12 majority) won’t say out loud that they don’t have the 24 votes needed to pass the proposed constitutional amendment.

But Gardiner, whose job is to count votes and corral the GOP caucus, conceded the speaker’s priority measure wouldn’t pass as is.

“You never count out votes until you sine die but I do think there’s a strong sense amongst our members about the Supreme Court piece,” Gardiner said.

Senate holds nose and eyes Cannon’s court rewrite

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

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.

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