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Cannon puts damper on push to fund courts

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House Speaker Dean Cannon

By Tom Flanigan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-994655.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – During the 2011 Florida lawmaking session, House Speaker Dean Cannon was pushing big changes to the state's courts, especially the Supreme Court. Now, as Tom Flanigan reports, Speaker Cannon says he'll be happy to leave the matter up to the voters in 2012.

Earlier this year, the speaker championed some sweeping changes to the Florida Supreme Court. His plan included splitting the high court in two. Instead, lawmakers proposed a somewhat less sweeping change to the state constitution Amendment Five. On Monday, Speaker Cannon told reporters that that amendment works for him.

"I'm very pleased with the proposed court reform measures that will be on the ballot in 2012 and I don't have any personal desire to propose any other reforms that would involve changing the constitution, so the idea of a criminal and civil division on the supreme court, etc."

Cannon thinks there are simply too many other major matters facing lawmakers during the upcoming session.

"I do think there are probably some statutory things that I hope I can work with the bench and the bar in considering, but given the limited bandwidth of this session that's not a major priority and I don't expect it to consume a lot of focus during the session."

That work with the judiciary and the Florida Bar may be essential to the smooth implementation of Amendment Five, should it pass. Given the present fiscal realities, Cannon says the court funding levels coming out of the 2012 session may not be much better than they are now.

"They definitely can be made better and I hope we can provide a degree of budgeting that is more predictable and less volatile for the courts. I think it's important to remember, though, that the legislature is the appropriating branch and that we not confuse stable, thoughtful budgeting with some sort of guarantee of certain levels of funding."

In short, the message from Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon to those connected with the state's court system, things probably won't get worse, but don't expect them to get much better, either.