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Budget writers nearing deal on courts, legal funding

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House and Senate justice budget writers appear within striking range of a deal to reconcile their proposals, which sat at $3.5 million apart after two meetings on Saturday, one-10th of 1 percent over the overall budget.

As of Sunday afternoon the gap was narrowed to about $441,939 in general revenue, though the way the money is appropriated still differs slightly.

Budget writers closed out differences on nearly a dozen line items including funding for public defenders and other state-provided defense counsel, and for inmate re-entry centers in Lake and Gadsden counties.

The current House offer also includes $100,000 for a new branch of the 2nd District Court of Appeals, but that was not met by the Senate. Some Tampa Bay area lawmakers want to move the DCA court to more centrally located Tampa, but observers say Polk County Sen. Kelli Stargel, who represents Lakeland where the court now operates, is vehemently against the move.

The Senate made in exchange Senate proviso and “back-of-the-bill” language, which contains boilerplate language directing funds for certain programs generally kept intact from year to year, though the items do shift some.

Among other proviso differences, the House wants $500,000 to study the recent rash of deaths among inmates in Florida’s prisons, by “consolidating, cleansing and analyzing data to measure behavior, improve outcomes, and make data driven decisions on how to best utilize resources.” The Senate’s offer contained no such language.

The Senate proviso proposal, though, contains $1 million to track prisoners at the Lowell Correctional Institution using GPS tags to help study inmate interactions, a priority unmet in the House offer.

Chairman Larry Metz tentatively announced the next hearing will commence at 6 p.m. Sunday night, but that it could meet later in the evening.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at

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