Two of the most controversial pieces of legislation confronting the 2013 session passed the Florida House Civil Justice Subcommittee Thursday, largely along partisan lines. They aim to reform Florida's foreclosure process and to curb the influence of certain "foreign laws" in family court proceedings.
HB 87 (Mortgage Foreclosures), sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Passidimo, R-Naples, aims to streamline and expedite the foreclosure process through several provisions. It reduces the statute of limitations for deficiency judgments from five years to one, and requires the lender in a foreclosure action to provide certain documents proving ownership of the loan before a court can begin foreclosure proceedings. In addition, it allows third-party lien holders to initiate those proceedings and reduces the number of hearings.
Finally, the bill provides protections to bona-fide purchasers of foreclosed homes: when two or more banks claim to own the mortgage, they will have to settle the issue between themselves, without involving the new homeowner.
Passidimo said the bill was needed to provide relief to the state court system. The average foreclosure proceeding lasts 853 days compared to a national average of 414 and the courts are notoriously backlogged.
But both homeowner advocates and lawyers for the banking industry expressed dissatisfaction for the proposed reforms, complaining that the expedited procedures left both parties short-shrifted.
"The bill appears to diminish the rights of consumers to streamline the process," said Lynn Drysdale, an attorney who represents foreclosed homeowners pro bono, of provisions in HB 87 that could see foreclosures completed in as little as 45 days. She warned that was often not enough time for a prospective client to retain a lawyer.
Lobbyist Anthony DiMarco, on behalf of the the Florida Bankers Association, called the reduced statute of limitations draconian, and suggested it be reduced to two years instead of just one.
After comment and debate was over, the subcommittee approved the measure by a vote of 10-3. Each Republican supported it, though self-described fiscally conservative Mike Clelland of Lake Mary was the only Democrat to do so.
Clelland did, however, join his three Democrat colleagues in opposing HB 351, formally titled "Application of Foreign Law in Certain Cases" but more popularly referred to as THE "Anti-Sharia Bill."
The bill is modeled after legislation proposed by conservative activists who claim Islamic law, which discriminates against women and non-Muslims, is stealthily encroaching upon the American judicial system.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, is a scaled-down version of one that passed last year in the House but failed in the Senate: it prohibits the application of any foreign law, legal code, or system only in family law courts, if that foreign legislation does not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the same fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges guaranteed by the state Constitution or the United States Constitution.
The four Democrats on the House panel fielded a number of criticisms of the proposed legislation: that it is redundant, is motived by anti-Muslim bigotry, would paint Florida in a bad light for foreign investors, and would bog the state down in costly litigation as its constitutionality is challenged.
Any bill that could potentially have consequences on how we as a state are perceived as a place to attract talent from abroad and investment from abroad really is of concern to me and those I represent, said Rep. JosRodruez, D-Miami.
Metz struggled to offer concrete examples of foreign law nefariously affecting Floridas system of family law when challenged to do so by Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, though he did offer a hypothetical example of when such a conflict might arise:
Lets say a couple moves to the United States and they have a prior agreement about the disposition of assets that would occur in the event of a dissolution of marriage, and its based on the law of a hypothetical foreign country. ... Lets assume further that that country has a bias toward the male in the relationship; the wife in that situation might object to the application of foreign law.
Waldman replied that Florida law already has mechanisms in place to protect a woman in such a scenario.
This bill was triggered by blatant bigotry; that is what this law came out of, Waldman told the panel, after citing several remarks by ultra-Orthodox Jewish attorney David Yerushalmi, who authored the model anti-sharia legislation and who is reported to have made disparaging remarks about African-Americans and Jewish liberals. Its offensive, it doesnt cure any problem that we have, it is solely designed to get at what some people dont like, and that would be the Muslims. ... Its a waste of our time [and] its a waste of our effort.
The fact of the matter is the bill basically takes our fundamental rights, liberties, and privileges in our federal and state constitutions and turns them into a front and center filter through which foreign law will run if it is going to be applied in a family law proceeding, Metz countered. I dont know how that can be offensive.
The bill passed by a vote of 9-4.
Earlier at that same meeting the subcommittee approved, by unanimous votes, a bill (HB 179) that awards property owners in eminent domain suits the interest earned on state deposits of the estimated property value while litigation is pending, and another bill (HB 175) that clarifies at what point a condominium comes into legal existence.
Contact Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (954) 235-9116.