By Megan E. Davis
Still months before the 2013 legislative session, the new chair of the Florida Senate’s Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee said it’s unclear whether there’s room for optimism when it comes to funding for state courts.
“The three-year outlook gives us reason to be optimistic, but there are going to be many issues that will shape our decision-making which are not contemplated in this kind of rosy outlook,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, as he spoke at The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors meeting in December on Amelia Island.
The newly elected Republican senator from Orange Park has been a practicing attorney for 15 years. His district includes Alachua, Bradford, and Clay counties.
Bradley said two issues could significantly impact the upcoming budget. One is the Supreme Court’s ruling on a lawsuit challenging a law passed in 2011 that requires all state employees pay 3 percent toward their pensions. If the challenge is successful, the state could be required to repay the funds it has collected, with interest, Bradley said.
Fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington, D.C. could also have implications for Florida, he said.
“The word from the experts this week is that if they do not come to an agreement of any sort and all the mandatory cuts go into effect, that’s going to have a big impact on the jobs of many Floridians that are part of the defense industry.”
(An agreement was reached as this News went to press.)
Bradley said that circumstance could pro-duce a “ripple effect” on the state’s economy, hurting sales tax and other revenue streams.
“This causes all of us to have great caution,” he said. “If both turn out well, we should not be in the position of doing the things we’ve had to do the last couple of years.”
Bradley also discussed his vision for his term and other expectations for the upcoming session.
“The judicial branch is a coequal branch of government and should be accorded that due respect in Tallahassee when it comes to all matters,” he said.
Bradley said he doesn’t “see a lot of appetite” for major fundamental changes to the court structure or method for appointing judges.
“The voters clearly spoke in the 2012 election,” he said.
The senator, however, did advocate for changes to the corrections system, noting that more than 30 percent of inmates released end up going back to prison.
“I think it’s fair to say we’re not doing a very good job of correcting behavior,” he said. “We need some accountability measures in that area of the budget to make sure we’re getting our bang for the buck. We spend a lot of taxpayer money on corrections.”
As he introduced Bradley at the meeting, former Bar President Hank Coxe called the senator “a breath of fresh air for the Florida Senate, a breath of fresh air for the profession.”
“He’s served in countless organizations in the profession,” Coxe said. “He’s a friend of the profession and the judiciary.”