After an epic, decade-long battle between 38 Florida counties and state government, a compromise solution has been found over payments for juvenile detention. Manatee County fought hard to end the Department of Juvenile Justice's excessive and indefensible charges to counties under a billing system too broken for repairs.
Kudos to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, for his legislation to split the costs evenly, an idea that counties have pushed for years to no avail. A 2004 law set the stage for this costly legal conflict.
That law required counties to pay the predisposition costs of detaining underage offenders. After sentencing, the state picks up the bill. The feud began in 2009 when DJJ first determined the counties' share should be 75 percent, but an appeals court disagreed in 2013.
Counties sought the return of hundreds of million of tax dollars in overpayments, which killed legislation proposing a 50-50 split. Then Gov. Rick Scott and DJJ implemented the current 57-43 percent formula, with counties paying the higher amount -- which they fought as still inequitable. Again, the court sided with the counties earlier this year on the issue of back payments.
The absurd billing system required counties to pay bills in advance with DJJ simply guessing the costs, which resulted in the overpayments but no rebates.
After the court's most recent ruling, Latvala's bill began moving. The measure called for a billing system based on verified actual costs besides the 50-50 split. One of his Senate colleagues insisted the 22 counties suing to recoup overpayments waive those claims. They did.
This week, both the Senate and the House approved the measure unanimously. Gov. Scott intends to sign the bill, his office stated. Finally, the state -- credit Sen. Latvala -- it putting this issue to rest.
Manatee County taxpayers will no longer see their money wasted, and the government will be able to spend those dollars on programs that serve the public.