Senate, House differ on pandemic funding for backlogged court system

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The courts requested $12.5 million to clear a pandemic backlog.

A backlog of pending court cases due to the pandemic could affect Florida’s court system for years. The courts requested millions of dollars in funding to address the problem, but the House and Senate haven’t come to an agreement on how much to spend on the issue in their budget talks.

House and Senate budget committees for criminal justice met Sunday after a new offer was sent over for the House. The offer marks the first change in budget positions for the lower chamber since budget conferences kicked off Friday.

The Senate offers $9.4 million for a Trial Court Pandemic Recovery plan. The House offered $6.2 million, which is up from its initial proposed budget that put zero dollars toward the plan.

Sen. Keith Perry said the discrepancies are still part of active discussions between the two chambers.

“We got some things that have been brought to our attention,” Perry said. “Now that they’ve made that offer to us, we’re going to come back now. That’s what we’re going back to start right now, to go through that process.”

An estimated one million extra court cases will be pending in the state’s court system by July. The additional caseload comes from court delays because of the pandemic and pandemic-generated cases related to both the public health emergency and declining economic conditions. That’s according to the Florida State Courts annual report.

The court’s backlog includes pending felony cases that top 27,000, which are expected to take several years to work their way through to the prison population, according to the latest Criminal Justice Estimating Conference from the Economic and Demographic Research.

The courts requested $12.5 million in non-recurring general revenue “for temporary adjudicatory and case support resources for each of the next three years.”

Perry said he thinks the budget will be worked out during conference.

“We think we’re going to be okay with the court systems. We know that issue is certainly going to start now with trials starting back up and all the backlog, but that’s what we’re heading back there to do,” Perry said.

Another line item in the Senate budget includes $175,000 to assess the need for a pandemic recovery plan in trial courts, but the House has not met the upper chamber on that spending.

But the two chambers do agree on a clerks of court pandemic recovery plan, which is fully funded between the two chambers at $250,000.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown is a capitol reporter for FloridaPolitics.com. Her background includes covering the West Virginia Legislature for a regular segment on WVVA-TV in Bluefield called Capitol Beat. Her reporting in southern West Virginia also included city issues, natural disasters, crime, human interest, and anchoring weekend newscasts. Haley is a Florida native. You can reach her at [email protected]



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