The measure that would diversify revenues, support staffing needs, and account for services without a dedicated funding source for the Florida clerks, received high praise during its first scheduled hearing before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 14.
HB 977, by Rep. Adam Botana, R-Bonita Springs, would give Florida’s court clerks access to $31.2 million that would have otherwise flowed to the state’s general revenue fund. It’s part of a multi-year effort to stabilize a revenue source largely dependent on fines and fees.
Speaking in support of the bill, Clay County Clerk and Legislative Chair of the Florida Court Clerks Operations Corporation Tara Green told the committee that Florida’s clerks are facing significant challenges to support the critical court-related services they perform in their own communities.
“The budget that supports our services has only increased by about 1% in the last 10 years,” Green said. “Over 90% of the clerks’ budget is paid personnel. We are so busy plugging holes in our staffing we often don’t have enough time to properly train, manage quality control, and even manage employees.”
Green said these issues create threats to accuracy and run the risk of mistakes and increased errors.
“We want our records to be accessible, accurate, and timely and so do many others who rely on our information including law enforcement, state agencies, the judiciary, and The Florida Bar,” Green said.
Green says HB 977 addresses the gaps in funding that result in all these issues and provides a more stable base.
“Quite honestly, we’re here because we are struggling to meet the expectations and obligations we have in our communities and to be there to serve the people when they need us,” Green said.
Aside from Green’s testimony, the clerks presented a united front as seven of the 67 came to Tallahassee to waive in support of the measure, including Martin County Clerk and Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers President Carolyn Timmann, Polk Clerk Stacy Butterfield, Lee Clerk Kevin Karnes, Madison Clerk Billy Washington, St. Lucie Clerk Michelle Miller, Suwannee Clerk Barry Baker, and Volusia Clerk Laura Roth.
Members of the committee praised the bill and said they understand the difficulties the clerks face.
“I think it’s good that we’re trying to ease the financial burden on the clerks. This is a great start, and I look forward to working on it,” Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Riverview, said.
Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, said the redistributing of funds is a necessary step.
“One of the things I really like to see in legislation is things like redistributing the money back from the general revenue fund . . . to where it belongs. [F]ees and stuff have been going into general revenue and not staying with the clerks of the court and I’ve seen it in other locations,” Roth said.
Rep. Patt Maney, R-Shalimar, also supported the bill and used his longtime experience as an Okaloosa County judge to give his colleagues a different perspective.
“I’ve worked in the courts, and I know how vital not only the clerk’s office is, but continuity in manpower and management is,” Maney said.
Maney said he knows what happens when the financial burdens becomes too great.
“I’ve worked in a courthouse where when finances got more constrained; it got more difficult to do more work timely and properly because we had rotating brand-new clerks and deputy clerks. This is a great bill and I’m so grateful you brought it,” Maney said.
The Civil Justice Subcommittee reported the measure favorably by a unanimous 18-0 vote. It’s next stop is before the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.