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DeSantis signs bills to add new judges, revise housing law

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed 11 bills, including a measure that will increase the number of circuit-court and county judges and a bill that will revise a major housing law, known as the “Live Local Act,” that passed in 2023.

The bill adding judges (HB 5401) will create a circuit-judge position in the 1st Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

It also will create a circuit-judge position in the 20th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.

The bill also will add three county judges in Orange County, two county judges in Hillsborough County and one county judge each in Columbia and Santa Rosa counties.

The bill exceeds the recommendations of the Florida Supreme Court, which in November called for a new judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit, three new county judges in Orange County and two new county judges in Hillsborough County.

In a fiscal year 2024-25 budget passed in March, lawmakers included just over $1 million for the circuit-court positions and $2.66 million for the county-court judgeships. The Legislature has not formally sent the budget to DeSantis for approval and vetoes.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, made a priority in 2023 of passing the Live Local Act to try to provide more affordable housing. The bill signed Thursday (SB 328) makes changes to the law and sets aside $100 million for the Florida Hometown Hero Program, which was created to help people such as teachers, health-care workers and police officers buy homes.

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