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Budget chiefs revive prison health care watchdog agency

by Dara Kam | March 8th, 2012

The House last night agreed to the Senate’s plan to revive the Florida Correctional Medical Authority, a watchdog agency responsible for overseeing health care to Florida’s prisoners.

Lawmakers shuttered the agency last year despite concerns that the closing may put the state in violation of a federal court order. Gov. Rick Scott expressed concern that its elimination could “could cause public health and safety risks” in a veto message killing a bill pushed by the House that would have eliminated the CMA, but lawmakers zeroed out its $700,000 budget, forcing the agency to close its doors last summer.

Considered a national model, the CMA was created more than 25 years ago as part of a class action lawsuit. The shut-down came amid a statewide effort to privatize health care for the state’s 100,000 inmates. Scott is now facing two lawsuits over the outsourcing effort.

The CMA until last year consisted of a nine-member panel housed under the Department of Health. Under the new plan, the oversight board will be comprised of seven governor-appointed members, have a budget of about $580,000 budget and six workers who will be part of Scott’s administration but will continue to operate independently.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander cited the elimination of the CMA as an example of a problem with the conference process in which issues get “bumped” to the budget chairmen, who are responsible for ironing out differences on sometimes arcane items in the state’s $70-plus billion spending plan. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said this year he regretted away to do away with it.

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