State courts pleased with Legislature’s funding plan
A 2020 legislative session forced, at least in part, into overtime by the COVID-19 virus outbreak ended on a bright note for the Florida court system.
The House and Senate signed off March 19 on a $92 billion, FY 2020-2021 budget that includes $21 million in initial spending for a long-sought Second District Court of Appeal courthouse.
The money is earmarked for architectural and engineering services, demolition, and site preparation, possibly in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties.
House and Senate leaders also agreed to spend more than $3.4 million to pay for the certification of 10 new trial judges. The money will pay for one new circuit judgeship each in the First and 14th circuits, and two circuit judgeships in the Ninth Judicial Circuit.
Orange and Lee counties will each receive an additional county court judgeship and Hillsborough County will receive four new county court judgeships.
In a statement that acknowledged the “extraordinary circumstances now facing the nation and Florida,” Chief Justice Charles Canady expressed his gratitude to lawmakers, especially for the initial funding for the new court facility and the slate of new judges, which the court requested.
“I am very appreciative of the hard work done by the Legislature during this year’s session,” he said. “Important substantive policy, as well, successfully passed this session, including changes to appellate jurisdiction and the ability for district courts of appeal judges to maintain remote headquarters.”
The chief justice noted that lawmakers and the governor are closely following the economic disruption linked to the epidemic and urged all Floridians to be prepared for “the changes that may become necessary to address the unprecedented public and private responses to this health crisis.” The budget will go to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has line-item veto authority.
Other spending items include $5 million to augment a “critical need” for court interpreting services, both in-person and through remote technology.
Another $1.8 million was approved for a “timely resolution of cases” initiative targeting family law and other civil disputes. The money will pay for 21 full-time positions and a pilot program for online dispute resolution.
The budget also includes $1.9 million for early childhood courts, with much of the money allocated to the Office of State Courts Administrator for the hiring of community coordinators.
The spending plan includes more than $516,000 for “ongoing, urgent security concerns” at appellate court facilities. The money will pay for six full-time positions, ending the need for appellate court marshals to use part-time security.
Problem-solving courts received more than $581,000 to “develop, implement, and maintain” a data-reporting program that leverages the Drug Court Case Management System, and to implement a statewide voluntary certification program for problem-solving courts.
Lawmakers earmarked more than $10 million for problem solving courts, with more than $9.4 million directed to treatment services for drug testing, case management and ancillary services for problem-solving court participants, including adult drug courts, juvenile drug courts, family dependency drug courts, early childhood courts, mental-health courts and veterans courts.
Budget proviso language also directs agency heads to expend funds for Bar fees and legal education courses for state employees who are required to be Bar members.