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UPDATE: Tallahassee judge tosses prison health care privatization

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott’s administration will appeal a judge’s decision that scrapped a prison health care services contract.

“This ruling is wrong and puts in jeopardy nearly $90 million over the next two years that could be used to fund critical priorities – including increasing K-12 education funding. We are working with the Department of Corrections to appeal the decision and protect hundreds of other state jobs that the Department could be forced to eliminate if they lose nearly $90 million in expected savings.” –Melissa Sellers, Communications Director, Governor Rick Scott

A legislative committee did not have the authority to approve a plan to outsource prison health services, a Tallahassee judge ruled today.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled that the way the Department of Corrections went about getting the funding for the privatization of health services in DOC Regions I, II and II was unlawful because it was not included in the state budget. The 14-member Legislative Budget Commission approved the spending earlier this year. Cooper’s order blocks DOC from moving forward with a contract with Corizon, Inc., ruling in favor of the two unions representing prison workers and nurses that sued the state.

The LBC can only make “limited adjustments” to the budget (also known as the General Appropriations Act), not change policy and procedures, Cooper wrote.

“‘Limited adjustments to the budget’ plainly contemplates administration of the approved budget according to its underlying intent, not new policy/spending priority decisions that could have been but were not passed by the full legislature. Otherwise, the exception swallows the rule, allowing a small handful of legislators to rewrite the GAA,” he wrote.

Cooper said a separate contract with Wexford Health Services for health care in Region I could move forward because it was included in the state budget.

The state can appeal.

Budget chiefs revive prison health care watchdog agency

Thursday, March 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

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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