For the last several years, the Florida court clerks and comptrollers’ offices across the state have found ourselves operating under extreme budget deficits, leading to a system that has become more challenging for Floridians including longer lines and transaction times, dysfunctional access to public court and county records and backlogs of court filings. While Florida’s clerks have made every effort to ensure access and efficiency, it has become a crucial issue that must be addressed.
During this legislative session, Florida’s court clerks and comptrollers are proposing statutory changes that will create sustainability and stability within our offices across the state and provide us with the adequate amount of funding to be able to continue to provide our vital services.
For more than 150 years, the Florida court clerks and comptrollers were funded by fines, fees and service charges we imposed and collected until a major constitutional change was adopted in 1998, and implemented in 2004, that required the state to fund the state courts system. In 2009, the Legislature required the court clerks to be funded through the general appropriations process and diverted significant revenues previously used to fund these offices for other state purposes.
Now, we’re asking lawmakers to switch to a continuing appropriation budget approach that would cap clerks’ budgets at a continuing level set by the legislature and allow for a possible limited adjustment factor based on increases in workload. We’re also proposing to allow for the transfer back of the filing fee that was redirected to other state uses in 2009, and are advocating for the Legislature to recognize that the 8-percent service charge imposed on the state trust fund isn’t applicable to the court clerks’ trust fund. Additionally, we are proposing that any excess amount that might occur from this redirection of revenue would annually revert to the general revenue fund.
Understanding the critical role we play in the court and judicial system, we truly believe that this funding restructure is the best solution to creating sustainability and stability for our court clerks and comptrollers’ offices across the state, while still allowing for accountability to the Florida Legislature.
Floridians deserve timely access to their records, their local clerk’s office, and an efficient court system — all of which can be achieved with this legislative change.
Karen Rushing, legislative chair, Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Association, Tallahassee