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Bill addressing clerks’ budget issues clears the Senate

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A bill that gives clerks of court more flexibility to manage their budgets and is the first step in a multi-year effort to address clerk finances has cleared the Florida Senate, with the House set to take up the legislation.

The upper chamber passed SB 838 40-0 on April 21 and the identical HB 903 is expected to be before the House as soon as April 26 or April 27.

The Senate bill combined measures to address clerks’ critical financial problems and to promote and encourage clerks’ programs to offer payment plans for people who face the loss of their driver licenses for unpaid court fines, fees, and costs.

The bill gives clerks authority to establish a statewide reserve fund that will help them cope with dramatic swings in revenues, codifies and makes permanent the ability to carry funds forward from one budget year to the next, and clarifies clerks can use appropriations to support their court-related functions.

“This is a really positive first step to beginning to solve this long-term problem,” said Jason Harrell, spokesperson for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers. “It puts the framework in place to stabilize us and help move us forward.”

Also merged into the final bill were separate measures to address minor issues that clerks sought to resolve. One simplifies the way the state reimburses clerks for jury costs and the second clarifies the distinction between court-related and county-related fees so clerks can remit the correct funds to the state.

The final Senate passage had only brief debate, and that focused on the payment plans segment of the bill.

“It’s very important especially on the fines and fees to find ways to allow our working class people who are having a difficult time paying their fines to be able to find a way to make payments and keep their [drivers] license,” said Sen. Tom Wright, R-Port Orange.

Clerks launched the At Your Service campaign to support SB 838 and HB 903 and to educate the public about the long-standing fiscal problems clerks have faced. That includes that clerks’ court-related budgets have declined $50.6 million in the past eight years.

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