by Monica Tsai
Florida State Senate president Jim King received the 2003-04 Florida Bar President’s Legislative Award for his service to the legal community during a ceremony in Tallahassee recently.
According to Jennifer Krell Davis, special projects/public information coordinator for The Florida Bar, King was selected by Florida Bar president Miles A. McGrane III for King’s continuing efforts in addressing the court funding issues of Revision 7 to Article V of Florida’s constitution.
Awards are given annually in conjunction with current legislation and the respective efforts of lawmakers.
“The Bar is recognizing those legislators that have been instrumental in the court funding revisions,” said Davis. “The legislators are helping protect our court system from unnecessary cuts and helping make the system more efficient.”
“This award is one way to thank Sen. King for his support of the judiciary and to ensure all Floridians have equal access to the justice,” said McGrane.
Essentially, Revision 7 to the state’s constitution shifts funding responsibilities for Florida’s court system from the county to the state level. The ballot was passed by voters in 1998 and becomes effective next summer.
What began as an initiative by certain Florida counties to redistribute court administrative costs to a more equitable level statewide has turned into a financial fiasco for an already money-strapped state government. Regardless of how it came about or who it may benefit, the state constitution has been revised. The issue now is how to execute the changes.
“All of the legislators are working on the transition,” said Davis. “The focus is on making the changes seamless.”
Her main concern is that a funding crunch will lead to higher fees and a reduction in programs, thereby making it more difficult for low-income individuals to receive the legal services they need. Programs that may be in danger of elimination under a state-controlled judiciary would most likely be operational programs that are separate from those regularly employed statewide. Family, drug and teen courts are such examples.
“Florida has one the best legal systems in the country,” said Davis. “On average, our judges handle more cases than any other state.
“The Florida Bar is trying to educate the Legislature on basics such as how the court system works. The awards are for those legislators who are educating people.”
Legislative work geared to implementing the constitutional revisions with the least negative impact should intensify next session. Until this year’s session is over, what will happen to the many functions of the court system is unclear.
Sen. King was unavailable for comment.
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