Court technology integration plan comes up short

first_img Court technology integration plan comes up short June 1, 2006 Regular News Court technology integration plan comes up shortcenter_img Recommendations for integrating court technology with instant access to multi-agency computers largely failed in the Florida Legislature this year.The House included $1 million to implement recommendations from the Article V Technology Board in its Article V Revision 7 bill, HB 7235. But the Senate declined to pass that bill, instead funding two positions in the appropriations bill to carry out some of the board’s recommendations.(HB 7235 also addressed several other issues left over from the implementation of Revision 7, the 1998 constitutional amendment that shifted more of the funding of trial courts from counties to the state.)Second Circuit Chief Judge Charles Francis, who chaired the technology board, said he was disappointed more wasn’t done.“The House passed an excellent bill, as far as getting it rolling,” he said. “What I was told by Senate staff and senators is it got all caught up on whether this was a state or county obligation. They did not want to revisit this whole issue about who pays for technology.”The board’s main recommendation was to begin finding a way to make computers in various state agencies which supply information to the courts be able to directly communicate. That would give the courts, including judges on the bench, instant access to information needed to resolve cases and make decisions.Toward that end, the board brought together a wide diversity of state agencies that provide data to the court to discuss how that goal could be achieved. Several proposals were spelled out in a January 2006 final report.Judge Francis had hoped to continue the momentum of an unprecedented blueprint for sharing information. This blueprint would include a statewide governing board with authority to compel further cooperation among agencies, as well as 20 judicial circuit boards with authority to spend money generated by court clerk recording fees for technology needs on all counties within a circuit, a major shift from current policy.“I wish they would let us continue,” Francis said. “We are spending all this money on technology, yet we can’t get to a determination of how much is there. What is it everybody needs that is not funded, if anything? That is still my question.”The House bill, Francis said, would have extended the board’s existence for two years and provided $1 million for the integration effort. The Senate’s final version, which was included in the appropriations bill, created two new positions in the court system. Those would focus on creating a “common data catalog” to help agencies work toward linking their computer systems and for training on data mapping.The technology board itself will cease on June 30, with no successor panel.“The overall initiative and momentum is passing. It’s going to be hard to recreate it if something isn’t done next year,” Francis said. “Everyone agreed it was a good idea, but got hung up on money and how to do it.”An April 2006 Florida TaxWatch report recommended that the Article V Technology Board be continued and funded for another two years, rather than creating a permanent state governance board and permanent circuit governance boards, as the board had recommended.“If given the necessary powers, direction, staff, and time, the board can develop a road map for data integration in the areas of criminal justice and family law that will enhance the safety and economic well-being of Florida’s citizens well into the 21st century,” according to the TaxWatch report.TaxWatch also recommended distributing revenue from the $2 of a special $4 service charge on most documents recorded in the official record books of clerks of the circuit court be administered on a judicial circuit level, saying it was the only way to adequately fund court-related technology in rural counties.Under current law, $2 of the service charge is retained by the clerks and $2 is distributed to boards of county commissioners to fund technology for the state trial courts, state attorneys, and public defenders.While those dollars provided a windfall in larger counties, rural counties were mostly left out of technology improvements.“Based on 2005 figures, the $2 service charge produced relatively little revenue in some rural counties for court-related technology for trial courts, state attorneys, and public defenders,” TaxWatch said in its report.“In 11 counties, the $2 service charge produced less than $50,000 and $100,000 in revenue.”last_img

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