The bills will be part of budget talks between the chambers.
The House and Senate Appropriations committees are poised to vote on their budget plans Wednesday, setting the stage for a floor vote later in Session. Along with the main budget bill, they’ll also approve a slew of budget conforming bills required to pass in tandem with the budget.
Included in those bills are measures to create a $2 billion fund to help state agencies cope with rising costs of goods due to inflation, to create a sixth District Court of Appeal and to change the qualifications for serving on the new Gaming Control Commission.
The inflation trust fund is a bill proposed by the House (APC 22-06), which would set aside $2 billion in general revenue. State agencies that require budget amendments through the Joint Legislative Budget Commission after the budget has become law because of inflated costs would be able to pull from the fund. The fund would be terminated on July 1, 2026.
The measure is in line with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ critiques of the federal government over the large amounts of spending approved by Congress to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has helped spur inflation. DeSantis has supported using those federal funds, which have helped pad the state budget, for various projects, including to backfill a proposed gas tax cut. But he’s justified it by saying the money would go to other states if left unused.
Creating a new fund specifically for price increases will give state agencies the flexibility to cope with inflation, said Jenna Sarkissian, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican.
“It is impossible to fully understand the impact of inflation on agencies this far out from the start of the fiscal year,” Sarkissian wrote in an email. “The fund gives the House an opportunity to direct funds throughout the next fiscal year to those agencies hardest hit by the rising cost of goods and services.”
In the Senate Appropriations Committee, the panel will vote Wednesday on SB 2510, which would change some of the requirements for members and staff of the Gaming Control Commission, which was created last year during a Special Session convened by DeSantis and passed along with the new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.
The bill would remove the requirement that each of the five members of the commission reside in a different appellate district. Another provision would eliminate the prohibition against being a lobbyist for staffers and members of the commission who are employed at other state agencies.
That provision is needed to address an “oversight in the original bill,” said Katie Betta, spokeswoman for Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, in an email.
“The current prohibition applies to both commissioners and staff,” Betta stated. “The intention was not to prohibit anyone currently serving in government from working at the commission. Government-to-government work is permitted under current lobbying rules for other entities.”
Under the law setting up the Gaming Control Commission, DeSantis was required to appoint all five members by Jan. 1, but so far he’s only appointed three. The commission is yet to hold its first meeting.
Both chambers have bills to create a 6th District Court of Appeal — HB 7027 and SB 2522. They are part of a plan to reorganize the lower court system, which was recommended by a Florida Supreme Court commission last year. Because the addition of a new appellate district would scramble the requirement that each member of the Gaming Commission be from one of the appellate districts, the Senate is moving to remove that requirement.
The high court’s recommendation, however, wasn’t unanimous. Justice Ricky Polston questioned the need for a new district, noting only two new judgeships have been added to the appellate courts in the last 20 years. The cost, too, would be “very expensive,” he wrote in his dissent.
But the majority said reorganizing the appellate courts and creating a new one would allow Jacksonville to have greater representation. The area generates 29% of the cases but only two judges from Jacksonville sit on the 1st DCA.
Northeast Florida counties, which currently sit in the 1st DCA that stretches into the Panhandle, would be drawn into the 5th DCA, which would include Alachua, Brevard, Flagler, Lake, Marion, Seminole and Volusia counties. The new 6th DCA would be comprised of six counties in the Tampa region — DeSoto, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.
The report recommending the change said the move “would promote public trust and confidence” and allow better public access to the courts.
In its budget, the Senate is setting aside $4 million and 24 new positions for the creation of the new appellate court, as well as $50 million for a new courthouse for the 6th DCA. A staff analysis for the House version of the bill indicates new judges and 28 new positions for the new appellate court will cost $4.3 million, while there will be a negative “indeterminate fiscal impact” to account for new courtroom and office space needs.
If approved by the chambers, the bills will be part of budget talks between the House and Senate later in the Session. The final budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 must be approved by the Legislature by March 11, the last day of the Legislative Session, to prevent an extended or Special Session.
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