THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, August 16, 2012
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
A legislative panel approved an additional $29.5 million in funding for Florida's clerks of court Thursday, largely undoing a budget cut that had already caused layoffs and delays at offices across the state.
With minimal discussion, the Legislative Budget Commission unanimously approved a budget amendment that would allow the clerks to spend funds from the Clerks of the Court Trust Fund.
The change mostly reverses a 7 percent cut lawmakers handed down during the legislative session earlier this year. Clerks had warned that the reduction would lead to layoffs and shorter office hours -- something that would cause delays in court matters ranging from foreclosures to divorces to small claims.
Bob Inzer, clerk of court in Leon County, told the commission that some clerks might have already pushed ahead with cost savings in anticipation of the cuts for the current budget year, which began July 1. But he said many of those decisions would likely be reversed now.
"There are a number of clerks that have gone through the layoff process and will be, assuming this passes and this budget authority will be instituted, will be rehiring those people or, if not available, will be rehiring additional people," he said. " ... You'd probably find 67 different answers to that in 67 different counties."
Karen Rushing, Sarasota County's clerk of court, also said in a statement issued by the clerks' organization that the restored funds would allow things to return to normal.
"Hours of operation had to be curtailed, limiting access to records by the courts and the public, as well as staff layoffs and other cost-saving decisions," she said. "With the LBC's vote, the clerks expect to return to normal hours of operation as soon as possible."
The cuts were pushed in the last legislative session by House budget-writers, who didn't object to Thursday's change by the joint House-Senate panel. Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, noted after the meeting that the vote was a chance to get closer to the upper chamber's recommendation that the clerks not take a cut in 2012.
"It wasn't possible to get to that position during conference (budget negotiations)," he said.