Budget talks underway

first_imgBudget talks underway Budget talks underway House and Senate conferees work out the differences During fast and furious budget negotiations underway at the Capitol, Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chair of the House Judicial Appropriations Subcommittee, paused to give a quick progress report.Late in the night of April 20, Negron said, the House and Senate reached agreement on what he called “a vast majority of issues”:• The entire judicial appropriations is $1.044 billion.• The Article V funding for the courts is $401.3 million, between the $427 million judicial branch funding the House had in its original general appropriations budget and $384 million in the Senate’s general appropriations budget.• The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office funding is $22.1 million. While short of the $27.5 million the new Executive Director Angela Orkin wanted, Negron said it is a $1.4 million increase over last year.“It is the highest amount we have ever funded, and it reflects my commitment that children in the court system should have advocates to protect them,” Negron said.• The state attorneys’ budget is $327.5 million.• The public defenders’ budget is $168.7 million.• An additional $6.5 million has been agreed upon for additional workload funding for state attorneys and public defenders.“I think this budget reflects my commitment that the judiciary is an independent, co-equal branch of government that should remain strong and independent,” Negron said.“We have to get it right during the transition year, because it will be a base budget for many years to come,” he said. “I want to make sure on July 2, when citizens go into our courthouses, they will not notice the difference that the state has assumed funding.”Complete details of funding for the court system, which will shift many costs from the counties to the state by July 1, will be reported in the May 15 issue of the Bar News. Until then, Negron gave a quick glimpse at where things stand on unresolved issues, as this News went to press:• Calling it his “No. 1 priority,” Negron hopes to see $1.3 million in equity pay for judicial assistants, which would mean an $1,800 pay raise on July 1 for judicial assistants in the 19th Circuit, where Negron practices law.“Judicial assistants are in the trenches every day, scheduling hearings with attorneys, steering pro se litigants in the right direction. I believe they are entitled to be paid in an equitable manner, regardless of where they work in the state,” Negron said.• Another $1.8 million was added to the House budget to cover the full cost for health insurance of judges.“I think the trial judge is the most important person in our court system,” said Negron.Negron’s philosophy about the role of trial courts, he said, is to acquit the innocent and adjudicate the guilty and carry out the proper punishment.But “adjudication of disputes and some of the therapeutic dimensions of the court system, we are trying to move them to other state agencies.”Those include pro se assistance programs, parenting classes, and other counseling services.“They are important, but to me, they belong somewhere else,” Negron said. Another proposal deals with optional filing fees for counties to impose and fund such programs as Teen Court, legal aid, and law libraries.Under this separate funding formula, Negron said, somewhere between $50 to $70 in criminal court cases would be assessed as a county option. May 1, 2004 Regular Newslast_img read more