Legislative panel wisely restores funding for vital public service

At first blush, the Legislative Budget Commission's approval of additional funding for Florida's court clerks and controllers would appear to have little impact on anyone. But with Manatee County slated to receive almost $400,000, the restoration of hours and rehiring of staff will expedite a lot of legal matters.

Court clerks provide a vital public service, primarily by processing and filing all manner of legal documents, ranging from traffic tickets and marriage licences to criminal proceedings and business disputes. Since criminal cases must receive top priority, civil cases sank to the bottom.

Home foreclosures, divorces and child support cases took longer to process after the Legislature unwisely slashed budgets by 7 percent this past spring and clerks were forced to cut hours and staff. R.B. "Chips" Shore, Manatee County's clerk of court and comptroller, reduced officers hours by 90 minutes a day and left four personnel vacancies open.

With a $29.5 million appropriation from the commission, all that will be reversed. Court clerks will still be operating under budget constraints because an irresponsible Legislature has targeted the offices in years past. Manatee's office remains $1 million down from previous cuts.

But at least the commission saw the error of the Legislature's ways this year and reversed course before the impact created too many difficulties.