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Clerks Of The Court Could Be Close To Having Stable Funding Source

The Florida Legislature is one step closer to inking out an actual deal for the state’s various clerks of the court budget.  It’s supposed to be more of a permanent fix to a problem that state lawmakers may have created a few years ago.

For many years, the Florida clerks of the courts $445 million dollar budget was funded by county court fines and fees they collected. But, in 2009, the clerks lost what they call their most stable funding source.

Florida lawmakers, at the time, put themselves in charge of funding the clerks’ budget. Local clerks had to send the money they used to keep for their own operations to Tallahassee. That arrangement caused the clerks to face millions of dollars in deficits each year.

Some had to reduce their staff or cut hours, and even close some offices, yet still provide the same amount of service to Floridians. But, this year, the Legislature is hoping to fix that.

“I think we as a Legislative Body have agreed to take the clerks out of the budget. I think that is something that we have all agreed to,” said Representative Charles McBurney.

McBurney is the Chairman of the Florida House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.  Together with Senator Rob Bradley, the lead budget writer for the Senate side, they’re working out an agreement to get the clerks a more stable funding source.

“That is going to end up saving the state of Florida just millions of dollars. Just trying to make up the clerks’ deficit will save us $162 million right there by putting them out of the budget. Also, by eliminating a lot of bureaucracy, just all sorts of headaches for the state,” said McBurney.

Earlier in the session, both the House and Senate differed a bit in their approaches to fixing the clerks’ problems. Now, while they’ve agreed to remove the clerks from the state budget, pretty much going back to the old system, McBurney says there’s one key change.

“Here’s the difference: One thing that we’re doing basically from 1845, or whenever they started doing it, to 2009, is that you’re still going to have oversight and accountability. And, this will be done, however, by the Legislative Budget Commission which will approve their budgets,” McBurney added.

The Legislative Budget Commission, or the LBC, is a 14-member panel made up of Florida lawmakers that both McBurney and Senator Bradley hope will allow lawmakers to still have some control over the clerks’ budget.

And, Bradley says with less than two weeks left of session, there’s still some details that need to be worked out.

“What we’re trying to nail down is the parameters of the LBC’s [Legislative Budget Commission’s] review, and whether we’re going to have a cap on growth in that area of the budget, and those sorts of things. There’s a lot of options available, and I look forward to continuing that dialogue with Chair McBurney," said Bradley.

As for the clerks’ themselves, Karen Rushing says they’re taking a “wait-and-see” approach. She’s Sarasota County's Clerk of the Circuit Court and also represents the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers.

“Personally, I believe the Devil’s in the details and until I see the details, I’m very eager to hear the specifics, and can’t say that I’m comfortable until I see the details," said Rushing. "So, I can’t say that the future is good or bad."

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.