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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida's court clerks are warning that the new state budget could lead to nearly 900 people losing their jobs and the closing of offices across the state.

County court clerks handle everything from court files, traffic tickets, and child support. The clerks budget, however, is set by the Florida Legislature.

A decision by House and Senate budget negotiators in the waning days of the session would reduce the clerks' budget by more than $30 million. It was one of dozens of spending items decided in the last week as Republican leaders put together a $70 billion budget.

"It's going to be devastating," said Sarasota County Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Rushing. She expects to lose 15 employees.
Pinellas County Clerk of Circuit Court Ken Burke said he will have no choice but to shut down some branch offices in his county.

Burke also said it is likely he would cut back operating hours.
"I don't see any way I can keep all five of them staffed," Burke said.

There has been a tug of war over the budget of the court clerks for years. Florida lawmakers have controlled the overall budget of the clerks since 2009 even though the clerks are elected officials.

House Republicans have pushed unsuccessfully to remove legislative control, but have encountered resistance from Senate Republicans.

This year was no different. The House budget passed early on in the session did not include the clerks, but the Senate budget set aside more than $446 million for them.

But when negotiations began last week the amount of tax dollars going to the clerks was cut.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City and chairman of the budget subcommittee that deals with courts, said it was a decision that was made by Republican leaders above him. He said there was nothing he could do about it.

A preliminary analysis prepared by court clerks shows that the budget cut would lead to layoffs in most counties, including as many as 175 employees in Miami-Dade County, 67 employees in Duval County, 65 employees in Broward County, 55 employees in Palm Beach County, 42 employees each in Hillsborough and Orange County, 38 employees in Pinellas County, 35 employees in Seminole County, 26 employees in Volusia County, 16 employees in Lee County, 10 employees in Escambia County, and nine in Leon County.

Rushing warned that the cuts would force the clerks to concentrate more on criminal cases than civil cases. She also said it could slow down how fast delinquency notices in child support cases can be processed.

The Legislature is expected to vote on its proposed budget this Friday.

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