Finally, florida issue of juvenile detention costs settled between state, counties _ bradenton herald

Good governance came to the fore Tuesday when Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law that corrects an atrocious inequity long fought by dozens of Florida counties. This marks the end to the years-long legal tussle between the state and counties over the cost of juvenile detention. Manatee County commissioners are rightfully ecstatic. “Awesome,” Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh told Herald reporter Kate Irby. Thanks to Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, sponsor of this legislation, county taxpayers will no longer bear the burden of paying more than their fair share

of those costs, leaving more money for local programs and projects. Kudos to his son, too, Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, who pushed the House version of the bill. State law requires counties to pay the predisposition costs of detaining underage offenders. After sentencing, the state picks up the bill.

Beginning next year, the state and 38 counties will split the expense evenly, 50-50, far better than the state policy that required a 57-percent share by counties not fiscally restrained (mostly rural areas that are exempt from these costs). This fiscal year, the new law pumps $11.2 million in state dollars into detention bills, thus reducing county payments immediately — another plus. Latvala’s law also settles another hotly contested dispute — the state’s bizarre billing system by which counties prepaid the cost of incarcerating juveniles before adjudication according to an estimate by the Department of Juvenile Justice. This guessing game proved expensive for counties.

DJJ’s assessments often led to overpayments — an unseemly system that ultimately cost counties some $200 million, money the state kept. The counties sued to recover those tax dollars and won a 2013 state appeals court decision that confirmed counties were overpaying for juvenile detention. Under the new system in Latvala’s legislation, DJJ will now bill counties for actual costs after they’ve been expended during the previous year. The simple logic of that system had escaped state policymakers.

To win legislative passage, some two dozen counties agreed to abandon pending lawsuits should the bill become law. Manatee County joined that successful bid to resolve the issue, sending a letter to Latvala last month agreeing to drop the legal challenge. The history of this issue illustrates once again the Legislature’s propensity to shift state costs onto counties, thus giving lawmakers more money to spend on pet projects and other programs. It also reflects political disdain for the electorate. In 1998, Florida voters amended the Constitution, mandating the state pay the full cost of the state court system beginning in 2004.

That didn’t sit well with legislators, who revised state law so counties paid pre-sentencing costs of juvenile detention. That launched the legal battle. The feud heated up in 2009 when DJJ determined the counties’ share should be 75 percent, but an appeals court invalidated that amount in 2013 and cited a figure of 32 percent. Since the Legislature did not address this in 2014, Scott and DJJ implemented the current 57-43 percent formula, with counties paying the higher amount — which they justifiably fought as still unfair. This Editorial Board has railed against this injustice many times over the past few years. Both the Senate and House finally addressed the inequity with unanimous votes in both chambers, thus serving their constituents.

And Gov. Scott didn’t hesitate in signing the bill into law only a few days after receiving it. Local taxpayers are the winners here. This matter is finally closed.