Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?


Another legal challenge to prison health care privatization looms

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The union representing state workers has vowed to file another lawsuit if a legislative committee approves the privatization of all prison health care services tomorrow.

Lawyers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contend the move to outsource the health care for Florida’s 100,000 inmates is illegal.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission is slated tomorrow to vote on a request from the Department of Corrections to transfer money within the agency to pay for contracts with two private companies, Wexford Health Sources and Corizon. The state now spends about $350 million a year on prison health care, including drugs. The agency plans to begin the privatization, affecting about 2,600 employees, on Jan. 1.

The GOP-dominated legislature last year gave the corrections department permission to outsource the prison health care privatization in budget “proviso” language, but the privatization has been tied up in court. AFSCME and the Florida Nurses’ Association challenged the privatization, saying it was a major policy change that needed to be approved in a stand-alone bill. A judge thwarted a similar attempt to privatize a large portion of the state’s prisons last year, and lawmakers were unable to pass a prison privatization bill during the legislative session that ended in March.

A Leon County circuit judge did not rule on the health care privatization lawsuit because the proviso language expired with the June 30 end of the 2011-12 fiscal year.

UPDATE: Gov. Scott’s state worker drug testing unconstitutional, federal judge rules

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott said he will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that random, suspicionless drug testing of state workers is unconstitutional.

“As I have repeatedly explained, I believe that drug testing state employees is a common sense means of ensuring a safe, efficient and productive workforce. That is why so many private employers drug test, and why the public and Florida’s taxpayers overwhelmingly support this policy. I respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling and will pursue the case on appeal,” Scott said in a statement.

Gov. Rick Scott’s random drug testing of state workers is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled today.

Miami U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro Thursday morning ruling that random, suspicionless testing of some 85,000 workers violates the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures also raises doubts about a new state law quietly signed by Scott this spring allowing the governor’s agency heads to require urine tests of new and existing workers.

“To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing,” Ungaro wrote in her order issued this morning, citing previous U.S. Supreme Court orders which decided that urine tests are considered government searches.

Scott issued an executive order requiring random drug testing of new hires and all state workers after he took office last year. But he suspended the tests in June after labor unions and the ACLU challenged the order, objecting that the tests are a violation of the constitutional right to protection from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Instead, Scott limited his order for all but corrections officers pending the outcome of the Miami case.

Lawyers for AFSCME, the union representing government workers, and the ACLU argued that drug tests should only be ordered if a worker is suspected of a substance abuse problem or for employees in high-risk jobs. Previous Supreme Court decisions upheld drug testing in those jobs, Ungaro noted, or in cases involving school children.

Ungaro rejected Scott’s lawyers’ arguments and data showing that about 1 percent of workers at certain agencies who underwent the drug screens tested positive. And she was not persuaded by the governor’s arguments that private sector drug testing shows widespread drug use among workers. She also did not agree that prospective or current state workers could seek employment elsewhere if they object to the tests. New hires, but not current state workers switching jobs, could be required to take the tests, Ungaro ruled.

“All of the upheld drug-testing policies were tailored to address a specific, serious problem. In contrast, the rationale for the Governor’s policy consists of broad prognostications concerning taxpayer savings, improved public service, and reductions in health and safety risks that result from a drug-free workplace,” Ungaro wrote.

Lawyers for the union and the ACLU, who had expected Ungaro to rule as she did, nevertheless applauded the decision.

“With her order today, Judge Ungaro has protected the privacy and personal dignity of tens of thousands of Florida’s best and brightest – our state workforce,” said Alma Gonzalez, Special Counsel of AFSCME Council 79, which brought the suit. “There never was any evidence that state employees used drugs more than any other group so this was a case of using hard working state employees to score political points.”

Scott’s lawyers argued that the drug tests were necessary to combat drug abuse and ensure a more efficient workforce.

But individual rights to privacy trumped the government’s interest in those issues, Ungaro found.

“The fundamental flaw of the EO is that it infringes privacy interests in pursuit of a public interest which, in contrast to the concrete and carefully defined concerns in Skinner, Nat’l Treasury, and Vernonia, is insubstantial and largely speculative,” Ungaro wrote, referring to cases in which the Supreme Court upheld the tests.

And she also did not agree with Scott’s arguments that the drug tests were a part of Florida’s “transparent” government.

“The Governor’s reasoning is hardly transparent and frankly obscure. He offers no plausible rationale explaining why the fact that a state employee’s work product and financial status are publically accessible leads to the conclusion that the employee’s expectation of privacy in his or her bodily functions and fluids is then diminished. And in any event, no court has relied upon a policy of transparent government, embodied in laws such as those cited by the Governor, as sufficient to overcome a public employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of his or her urine. This Court sees no reason to be the first,” she wrote.

The new law, a priority of Scott’s which goes into effect on July 1, allows Scott’s agency heads to order the drug tests for up to 10 percent of their workers four times a year. Lawmakers did not include any additional funding for the urine tests, which run from $5 to $40, in the measure (HB 1205) in the state’s $70 billion budget, prompting some critics to question which services agencies will cut to absorb the costs. Workers can be fired if the drug screen is confirmed positive.

FEA leads union lawsuit to overturn 3 percent employee payments to retirement

Monday, June 20th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The state’s largest teachers’ union joined with other labor groups Monday in suing to overturn a new 3 percent payroll contribution for the 655,000 workers who belong to the Florida Retirement System, claiming the change violates a 37-year-old contractual agreement with public employees.

The lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court. But Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the Florida Education Association which filed the suit on behalf of 11 government workers who are members of the FRS, said it will likely wind up being settled in coming months by the Florida Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the 3 percent contributions, which kick-in July 1, should be segregated in a state account, awaiting the  legal outcome, Meyer said. Documents requesting an injunction to set aside the money has been filed by the FEA with Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford, who has been assigned the case

“We believe a promise is a promise and the state of Florida should live by the promises it makes,” Meyer said Monday.

The Republican-ruled Florida Legislature agreed to stop the full-employer paid provision of the FRS, instead making employees pay 3 percent of their paychecks into the plan. The roughly $1 billion drawn into state coffers with the employee contributions helped lawmakers cover an almost $3.8 billion budget shortfall.

Teachers and other school personnel represent the majority of the 655,000 members of the FRS affected by the new law. But the 11 workers suing the state include members of the AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Fraternal Order of Police, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

“It’s a contractual right,” Meyer said of what the union contends lawmakers have violated. “IF you had a 30-year mortgage to buy a house, would your lender 20 years in tell you the house is going to cost 3 percent more?”

Democratic-allied groups call for Scott to veto elections bill

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Add elections advocates Wednesday to a growing roster of organizations urging Republican Gov. Rick Scott to wield his veto pen.

Environmentalists have already weighed-in, asking the first-year governor to turn back four bills affecting water management districts, conservation rules, wetland regulation and growth management.

Now, several voter groups are demanding that Scott veto the legislation (CS/HB 1355) pushed by ruling Republicans over Democratic objections. Republican lawmakers said the tougher standards the measure would set on those seeking to cast ballots in precincts where they are not registered,  and organizations that register voters, is designed to stamp out fraud.

Democrats and their allies said the measure is aimed at diminishing Democratic turnout.

Those calling for a Scott veto include groups not normally among the first the governor turns to for counsel: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSMCE), the American Civil Liberties Union, Progress Florida, and the Florida AFL-CIO.

“These provisions needlessly infringe the voting rights of Floridians, particularly those among historically disenfranchised communities, including elderly, low-income voters, students and voters of color,” the group’s letter said.   “Instead of fixing real problems—such as expanding access to early voting —they would disenfranchise eligible Floridians, for no legitimate reason.”

Unions rally against Scott, GOP Legislature, again

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

About 1,000 protesters rallied Tuesday across the street from the state Capitol, blasting Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers for advancing an array of bills condemned as union-busting.

Many of those crowding the grounds of the Leon County Courthouse wore green shirts bearing the motto, “Let’s Pull Together.” The shirts also were emblazoned with the logo for AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.”

“Sure, I’m worried about what’s going on,” said Shelton Locklear, 64, a carpenter, and 31-year employee of the Polk County School Board. “They’re making us pay for pensions, that’s a pay cut for us.”

Locklear, who said he hadn’t drawn an across-the-board pay raise in three years, acknowledged Scott and legislative leaders looked certain to make the pension changes. But he said he hoped a show of political force by unions might blunt the push.

Nearby, a voter registration table was set up. And Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams drew a stark contrast between the crowd gathered across the street from the Capitol, and the lawmakers inside the 22-story structure.

“It’s all about taking care of the corporate executives who bankrolled the companies that put our legislators into office,” Williams told those gathered. “There’s one voice, one group that stands in the way of the right-wing ideology — it’s organized labor.” (more…)

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories