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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.

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.
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Prison privatization pre-vote round-up: Scott, labor unions and selling state prisons

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: CCA spokesman Steve Owen confirmed Florida is one of the states approached by the Nashville-based private prison corporation regarding a “purchase-and-manage” plan to help federal, state and local governments in a tough economy by selling prisons to CCA in exchange for a 20-year contract. Jump to the bottom of the blog to read the letter from CCA exec Harley Lappin to 48 states’ corrections chiefs, including Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker, on Jan. 13

Here’s an update on some of the recent developments in the prison privatization plan scheduled for a Senate floor vote this afternoon. Opponents of the measure, including Lakeland Republican Paula Dockery, insist their 20-member coalition of Democrats and Republicans will hold together and kill the measure on a tie.

• Gov. Rick Scott said today that he wants the House and Senate to approve the privatization deal, which would outsource all Department of Corrections operations in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state – including more than two dozen prisons and work camps. Scott a few weeks ago called a handful of GOP senators against the plan into his office, urging them to support be good Republicans and support the proposal. They refused.

“This is an opportunity for the taxpayers of the state to save money,” Scott said. “We’re at a four year low in our crime rate and the number of inmates we have is down from what we anticipated.”
Scott offered assurances that the state would not move forward with the privatization unless vendors promised their costs would be at least 7 percent less than what the state is now spending on the region – an estimated $16.5 million of about a $232.3 million budget.

“There is no way we’ll do this if we don’t save money,” Scott said. “The bill says if we don’t save at least 7 percent we don’t do prison privatization. Why wouldn’t we put ourselves in the position to save money to put into programs that we know we need to fund.”

Some lawmakers believe Scott already has the authority to order the privatization on his own, but the first-term governor would not say if he would take that route if the bill (SB 2038) dies this afternoon.

“The right thing is for both the house and Senate to pass the prison privatization bill,” he said.

• Sen. Maria Sachs and a coalition of labor union leaders fired up the troops this morning at a press conference where they pledged to keep on fighting the privatization until the session ends on March 9.

This afternoon’s vote will “define who we are as a people,” Sachs, a Delray Beach Democrat and former prosecutor, said.

“Are we a government composed of for-profit corporations?” Sachs asked, warning that the prison privatization is a “slippery slope” that could lead to privatization of other state functions.

• And The Huffington Post is reporting that Corrections Corporation of America, one of the two vendors interested in bidding for the lucrative South Florida contract, is pitching a different privatization plan to 48 states, including Florida.

CCA has set aside $250 million to buy prisons from the state – in exchange for 20-year contracts to operate the prisons.

Read the letter from CCA executive vice president and chief corrections officer Harley G. Lappin after the jump.
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Prison privatization study dies on close vote

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

With a 21-19 vote, a sharply divided Senate rejected an amendment that would have done away with a sweeping prison privatization effort, but doubts remain over whether GOP leaders =have the support to pass the outsourcing on its own.

After nearly two-and-a-half hours of questions and heated intra-partisan debate, Sen. Mike Fasano failed to muster enough votes for his amendment that would have stripped the controversial bill (SB 2038) and replaced it with a cost-benefit analysis. Eight Republicans joined 11 Democrats in voting for the measure.

Monday’s actions leave Senate President Mike Haridopolos and other GOP leaders poised to bring up the bill tomorrow. But it’s unclear whether Monday’s vote indicates that Haridopolos, who twice yanked the bill from the floor because it appeared Fasano had the votes to pass his amendment, has enough support for his bill that would die on a tie vote.

Critics of the privatization include Sen. Paula Dockery, who Monday morning released data provided by the Department of Corrections showing that just four of the seven private prisons currently operating in the state are cheaper to run that similar public institutions.

But Senate budget chief JD Alexander insisted the proposal – that would outsource all DOC operations, including more than two dozen prisons and work camps, in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state – would have to save at least 7 percent, or $16.5 million annually, of the $232.3 million the state now spends on Region IV.

“You can’t get more information than we have. It’s going to be disputed any way you go. The only way you get better information is you privatize a region and find out exactly what the savings are,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said, urging a “no vote” on Fasano’s amendment.

Fasano later took umbrage at criticism from incoming Senate President Don Gaetz over the Fasano faction’s refusal to agree to take up a late-filed amendment. Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, kicked Fasano off as chairman of a budget committee because of his public objections to the privatization.

“Just because I disapproved of a policy I was removed as a chairman. Is that process? All this is is a study. Why are we so afraid of a study?” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

Fasano also disputed proponents’ arguments that many of the 3,800 state workers who would be impacted by the privatization could find jobs elsewhere within the system or be hired by the private vendors because the department is shutting down nearly a dozen work camps or prisons.

“Let’s not play those games. That’s not going to happen. People are going to be without a job. Veterans are going to be without a job,” Fasano said.

Are private prisons cheaper?

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The state’s private prisons aren’t costing the state less than their state-run counterparts, according to Department of Corrections data released this morning by Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the leaders of a gang of GOP senators opposed to a prison privatization plan set for floor action this afternoon.

Dockery’s data reveal that the four of the private prisons cost less than similar public institutions, but one of those prisons – Gadsden Correctional Institution, which houses female prisoners – achieved its cheaper rate in part because it was compared to Lowell Correctional Institution which also includes a more expensive reception center and Death Row inmates. Read the data here and here.

The private prisons are supposed to save taxpayers a minimum of 7 percent of what it costs to run equivalent state-run facilities.

Among the more expensive private prisons is Palm Beach County’s South Bay, operated by Boca Raton-based GEO Group, with a $48.11 per diem rate for its 1,856 prisoners. That compares to a daily rate of $37.91 per inmate at nearby Okeechobee Correctional Institution which houses 1,619 prisoners. Both have minimum, medium and close custody adult male prisoners.

Overall, the private prisons average $46.73 per prisoner per day, compared to $42.36 per day for public prisons, Dockery found. Those on both sides of the issue say it is difficult to compare the costs for the prisons because of differences in the types of inmates they house. That’s one reason Senate budget chief JD Alexander wants to privatize an entire Department of Corrections region in the southern portion of the state. He says that will make it easier to compare costs with other state-run regions after the privatization is complete.

Senators will take up amendments this afternoon on a proposal (SB 2038) that would privatize all DOC operations – including more than two dozen prisons and work camps – in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state. Backers of the plan, including Gov. Rick Scott, say it will save taxpayers money. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, estimates the savings at between $14.5 million to $44 million annually.

Dockery and Sen. Mike Fasano, whom Senate President Mike Haridopolos stripped of a budget committee chairmanship because of Fasano’s public opposition to the proposal, insist taxpayers will ultimately lose in the deal.

“In an effort to privatize our state’s prisons, Senate leaders are acting like politicians at their worst – twisting arms in backrooms and giving contracts to special interest donors,” Dockery, R-Lakeland, said in a statement. “They need to start acting like any business in the private sector would and stop using imaginary numbers.”

Meanwhile, the statewide chapter of the NAACP came out against the plan – also opposed by labor unions – this morning. Dale Landry, chairman of the organization’s criminal and civil justice committee, accused Scott and GOP lawmakers of being influenced by the private prison companies’ campaign donations

GEO and Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, have contributed at least $2 million to candidates or political parties since Scott’s election in 2010. GEO contributed at least $336,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in the past year. The two vendors would be the primary bidders on the plan, which would give contracts to at least two companies to participate.

“One only has to look at contributions by the two primary candidates for operating the private prisons in Florida, CCA and the GEO Group, and we can understand the power of these corporate masters over the Republican leadership,” Landry said. “As a result, they are calling for a redemption of their investments.”

Prison privatization going down on Tuesday?

Friday, February 10th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Mike Fasano insists he and opponents of a sweeping prison privatization measure slated for a Senate vote on Tuesday still have enough votes to kill the bill.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos yesterday put the bill on Monday’s calendar after twice yanking it from the floor because Fasano had enough support to strip the privatization effort and replace it with a year-long study of the outsourcing’s cost-effectiveness.

Haridopolos said he intends to have an up-or-down vote on the measure, one of his priorities also being pushed by Gov. Rick Scott, on Tuesday, and hinted he may have the support to pass it although the vote will be close.

But Fasano this morning said nothing’s changed, and he and eight other Republicans along with 11 Democrats – Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando is the lone hold-out – will vote against the measure, meaning the bill (SB 2038) could die on a 20-20 tie vote.

“I have spoken to the eight Republicans that have said they opposed the bill and they are still firmly opposing the bill,” said the veteran New Port Richey Republican, a veteran lawmaker and outspoken critic of the plan to privatize more than two dozen prisons and other Department of Corrections operations – the largest prison privatization plan in the country – in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state. Haridopolos kicked Fasano off as chairman of the budget committee that oversees prison spending in retaliation for his opposition to the privatization.

The tie vote assumes that the Fasano coalition sticks together and that all members show up for the vote on Tuesday.

Senate takes another swipe at privatizing prisons next week

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos will next week resurrect a prison privatization plan he set aside twice, indicating he may have garnered enough support to pass the controversial measure.

Haridopolos said today the Senate will take up the privatization plan (SB 2038) and amendments on Monday, including a proposal that prompted Haridopolos last week to put the brakes on the bill that would privatize all Department of Corrections operations – including prisons and work camps – in an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state. Haridopolos stopped debate before an amendment that would have stripped out the privatization and instead ordered a study of the outsourcing.

When asked if putting the bill on the calendar meant that he now has the votes to pass the plan, Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, smiled.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Haridopolos may have garnered more support for his priority issue since stripping outspoken critic of the plan Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, of his committee chairmanship after Fasano’s privatization study amendment appeared to likely to pass and gut the bill. Haridopolos, Gov. Rick Scott and other GOP leaders have urged senators to go along with the plan because of an estimated minimum $16.5 million annual savings.

The Senate will likely have an up-or-down vote on the privatization plan on Tuesday, Haridopolos said.

“I think some people have been impressed by the facts,” he said.

Partisan scuffle over privatization and tax breaks yields hot air and jerked knees

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich got the last word in a partisan flame war with Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner over firing prison workers vs. closing a corporate tax loophole.

Rich launched the skirmish when she fired off a statement accusing Senate President Mike Haridopolos of ignoring her proposal that would net $500 million a year by putting an end to the “water’s edge” tax break multi-state corporations receive but companies based only in Florida do not.

“If the Senate President is serious about reportedly fighting ‘like hell to try to find some savings,’ he needs to redirect the Senate’s aim to where the confirmed savings can be found,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, estimates the state could save at least $16.5 million a year with a prison privatization measure that would outsource Department of Corrections operations in an 18-county region in southern Florida. The embattled proposal is now on hold in the Senate and prompted Haridopolos to eject Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, as chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee for his public vilification of the plan.

Gardiner accused Rich of employing a “knee-jerk, Democratic reaction” of raising taxes on already struggling Florida families and businesses. The Orlando Republican said the savings from the outsourcing would be better spent on education or health care in a time when lawmakers are fighting to close a $1.4 billion budget hole.

“It is irresponsible to trivialize a significant, multimillion-dollar savings,” Gardiner shot back in a statement. “It is my hope that we will soon see more solution-oriented language from the senator and less hot air.”

Rich didn’t leave it at that. She blamed her GOP counterpart of more “of the strong-armed tactics the Republican leadership is currently deploying to ram through” the privatization proposal.

“When a member of the Republican leadership deliberately distorts my words advocating for corporations to finally pull their own weight as a “knee jerk reaction” of “raising taxes” on Floridians, his so-called ‘response’ is not only wrong, but patently false. He’s correct, we ‘don’t need bills that raise taxes,’” Rich responded.

Rich’s proposal (SB 1590), which has not yet been heard in committee, levels the playing field for in and out-of-state businesses, she argued.

“Given the events Floridians have watched unfold this week – the inability to muster the votes to layoff thousands of corrections officers from their jobs, the punishment of a Republican Senator rightly critical of the prison privatization scheme, and now the accusation that Democrats want to raise taxes because the GOP so fears my legislation that could spare Floridians from the additional loss of critical services already cut to the bone – Senator Gardiner would do well to admit the real agenda behind their ‘teachers versus corrections officers’ privatization drive,” Rich said.

Senate president Haridopolos strips anti-privatization Fasano of committee chairmanship

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

In a rare use of political muscle, Senate President Mike Haridopolos has stripped Sen. Mike Fasano – a fierce opponent of prison privatization – of his post as chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice budget committee.

Haridopolos kicked Fasano off the committee after putting on hold for the second day a troubled prison privatization measure splitting the GOP caucus despite the support of the senate president and Gov. Rick Scott. Scott today called several Republican senators opposed to the measure (SB 2038) into his office to try to convince them to get behind the measure that would outsource all Department of Corrections operations in the 18-county region in the southern portion of the state.

“I just felt I had lost confidence in him to fill that mission” as chairman of the committee in charge of spending on prisons and other criminal justice operations, Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told reporters late this afternoon.

Fasano said he met with Haridopolos briefly after the Senate session broke this afternoon and was told he would no longer be chairman. The meeting lasted two minutes at the most, Fasano said.

“Unfortunately, this is about the special interests of Tallahassee. This is a perfect example of when they don’t get their way, and leadership doesn’t get their way, they start firing people, or they start removing legislators from their chairmanships,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

Taking over for Fasano will be Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Sen. Jim Norman will assume her role as chairman of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee.

Despite emotional pleas, House budget panel rejects bid to keep North Fla prison open

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by John Kennedy

Despite emotional testimony from county officials and prison employees, the House budget committee rejected a bid Wednesday to stop Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to close Jefferson Correctional Institution in rural North Florida.

The move was similar to the decision last December to close the state’s oldest lockup, Glades Correctional Institution, which similarly caused further economic upheaval in western Palm Beach County.

“This may be a 100-year event for this county,” said Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, whose district includes the prison, told the House committee.

The Republican-led panel, however, sided with the decision by Scott and the state’s Department of Corrections, to close JCI, one of 11 lockups and work camps the administration plans to close because of a declining inmate population. Bembry sought to direct $10 million from the state’s prison privatization funding to avoid closing the facility, which is the county’s largest employer.

Close to 200 jobs will be lost — or about 6 percent of the county’s workforce. Jefferson County, which adjoins the state capital’s Leon County, has a population of 14,000. Dozens of residents packed the budget committee’s hearing room Wednesday.

“I’ve already cut the private prisons 9 percent in our budget,” said Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, chairman of the criminal justice section of the House budget panel. “If I cut them again, it would throw my budget out of whack.”

Julie Conley, Jefferson County’s economic development chief, and a former mayor, pleaded with the committee to find other areas to cut — saying there are few job prospects in her community. Conley said she understood the need to save money.

“But we ask that you do it some place that can more easily absorb the impact,” she said.

Close vote on prison privatization in Senate

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 by Dara Kam

The future of a prison privatization plan remains uncertain as GOP senators remain divided even as the chamber prepares to debate the outsourcing of dozens of prisons in an 18-county region in southern Florida.

Supporters of the measure, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, need at least 21 votes for it to pass. One of the 12 Senate Democrats – Gary Siplin of Orlando – split with the minority caucus who voted to oppose the measure. And another Democrat, Larcenia Bullard, is absent today, if the proposal (SB 2038) gets a vote today.

At least 11 Republicans say they will vote against the plan or have not yet made up their minds as lobbyists for the two largest private prison corporations – Boca Raton-based GEO Group and Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America – meet with the undecided senators prior to the 1 p.m. session start.

The uncommitted GOP senators say they’re concerned about the real cost savings – estimated by budget chief JD Alexander to be about $22 million to $44 million annually – and the impact on the thousands of prison workers now employed by the state.

“We probably need to have a study and joint meetings where we lay it all out for everybody as to why this is a good thing,” Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said, predicting “a very, very close vote.”

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Nurses follow suit over prison privatization suit

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida Nurses Association has filed a lawsuit against the state corrections department over a prison health care privatization effort ordered by lawmakers in the budget last year.

The nurses are using the same argument that the Florida Police Benevolent Association successfully used to kill a prison privatization plan also included in the budget. A Tallahassee judge ruled that the way lawmakers went about the outsourcing was unconstitutional and needed instead to be the subject of a stand-alone bill.

The Department of Corrections is now taking bids to privatize all health services to the state’s 100,000 inmates. The outsourcing would put more than 1,000 nurses and other health care professionals now working for DOC out of a job, according to FNA director of labor relations Jeanie Demshar.

“We believe that any effort to turn thousands of state employee jobs over to private companies needs to be vetted by the public, with input from those workers,’’ Demshar said in a statement.

The suit was filed on Tuesday in the Leon County Circuit Court, where Judge Jackie Fulford scrapped the privatization of all corrections operations – affecting more than two dozen facilities and nearly 4,000 workers – in the 18-county southern portion of the state from Polk County to the Florida Keys.

Lawmakers are now reviving the prison privatization plan, slated for a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Read the lawsuit here.

Senate budget chief Alexander holds emotional meeting with prison workers

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 by Dara Kam

As promised, Senate budget chief JD Alexander met with more than two dozen prison workers who’d traveled to the Capitol to protest a prison privatization bill approved by his committee late Wednesday afternoon.

Alexander met with the workers after the committee approved the measure by a 14-4 vote and sent it on its way to the Senate floor to a full vote. They pleaded with him to reconsider the proposal that would privatize an 18-county region in the southern portion of the state and affect nearly 3,800 state workers, objecting that Alexander’s estimated $22 million savings are questionable because of “cherry-picking” by the private prison operators currently running seven Florida prisons.

“I don’t do this to hurt people. You all may not believe that but I don’t. I’m trying to figure out how to make all this stuff work,” said Alexander, R-Lake Wales, overseeing his chamber’s version of the state’s nearly $69 billion spending plan.

Private prison guards also do not have to undergo the same training as workers at the state-run prisons, union leaders representing the prison workers said.

The emotionally-charged meeting took place in a large conference room manned by the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Donald Severance and at least two of his aides. Alexander remained calm throughout the 45-minute meeting as the workers tried to persuade him with comparisons about per diem rates and then anecdotes about the fear they have about losing their jobs.

“The privatization has added stress on us,” Martin Correctional Institutional guard Sarah Babineaux said. “I lay awake at night…just thinking about what am I going to do.”

Babineaux has two children and custody of two nieces, she said, one of whom is a 17-year-old senior looking for a high school ring. “And I don’t know where to purchase it, what county, what high school.”

Private prisons cost less because they are able to “cherry-pick” inmates that are cheaper to supervise, the workers said. Alexander said he believed the inmates have been assigned appropriately and later said he would look into the issue.

“I don’t work for anybody but the people of Florida. You might believe that but I don’t. I’m not running for anything. I’m not ever going to work for these folks. I haven’t raised money in years. I have no interest in making money. I have an interest in trying to make a budget work,” Alexander told the group, led by Teamsters lobbyist Ron Silver, a former state lawmaker. “Everything…is to get as clean and unfudgeable a set of contracts as possible because I don’t believe we should contract for one and give them easier stuff. If that’s what they contract for, that’s what they get.”

Prison workers decry privatization

Monday, January 23rd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Emotional pleas and threats of questionable savings and a danger to public safety failed to move an elite group of senators who gave preliminary approval to a sweeping prison privatization plan struck down by a judge last year.

Dozens of prison workers from throughout the state packed the Senate Rules Committee and testified for more than two hours on a fast-tracked proposal (SB 2038), pleading with the panel to slow down and warning that the savings for the state from outsourcing are overstated.

The privatization effort coincides with a Department of Corrections decision to shut down seven prisons and other facilities, doubling the prison workers’ worries.

Amanda Abers, 28, told the committee she moved from Minnesota to Florida a year ago to work at Indian River Correctional, a youth offender prison slated for closure.

“Vero Beach is not a big area. This is going to hit the economy very, very hard. You’re putting me out on the street plus their spouses, their kids, everybody,” she said.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, who included the privatization in the budget last year and sponsor of the proposal, said the outsourcing will force the department to reexamine its spending and questioned its management after the discovery last year that the agency had 12,000 empty beds scattered throughout the system. Shutting down the prisons will save an estimated $77 million annually, Alexander said.

“Competition makes us all better. It’s uncomfortable. It’s not always fun. But I believe that it makes it better,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said.
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UPDATE: Senate prez Haridopolos gives prison privatization bill another committee stop

Friday, January 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ spokeswoman Lyndsey Cruley issued a correction to the privatization bill committee stops. Haridopolos is giving the bill (SB 2038) reviving last year’s privatization of more than two dozen prisons another hearing in the budget committee – NOT the bill that would allow lawmakers to privatize state functions without public input until after contracts are signed.

Bowing to pressure from prison privatization critics including Sen. Mike Fasano, Senate President Mike Haridopolos has put the brakes – sort of – on a fast-tracked bill that would outsource all prison operations in an 18-county region south of Polk County to the Florida Keys.

But a bill that would give lawmakers the ability to outsource state functions without any public input until after the deals are done is still slated to be heard only in the Rules Committee that gave the measure a preliminary nod earlier this week.

Originally slated to be heard only in the Senate Rules Committee before being sent to the floor for a chamber vote, Haridopolos is now asking the Budget Committee to sign off on the bill (SB 2038) as well.

Fasano, chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, asked Haridopolos to give committees like his more up-to-speed on privatization the chance to scrutinize the proposal.

“These bills deal with potential changes to policy of such a magnitude that they should not have originated in a procedural committee such as the Rules Committee. However, they were and have now been referred back to that very same committee with no further referrals. Only your office would know why that decision was made.

In my opinion a subject as complex as prison privatization should have been referred to the substantive committees that oversee this subject matter (i.e. Criminal Justice, Governmental Oversight and Accountability and Criminal & Civil Justice Appropriations). The Senate has a rich history as a deliberative body that examines and allows for full vetting of proposed policy changes both major and minor. I respectfully request that if these bills are acted upon favorably by the Rules Committee on January 23, 2012 that you pull them back into your office and refer them to at least the three substantive and appropriations committees I have suggested,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, wrote to Haridopolos today.

Shortly after Fasano released his request, Haridopolos issued a memo defending the process in which the prison privatization was vetted last year and announcing additional committee stop for the privatization bill on Wednesday.

“After hearing questions and concerns from my fellow Senators in the Senate Committee on Rules regarding Senate Bill 2036, I have decided to proceed in an abundance of caution,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, wrote.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled lawmakers illegally included the privatization of the 18-country region of correctional operations in southern Florida in the budget instead of in a stand-alone bill. The privatization measure would take care of that problem, Rules Chairman John Thrasher said.

Haridopolos insists that although the prison outsourcing never was included in a bill, it was debated throughout the session at various committees and includes a timeline of the discussions in his memo.

“With that in mind, I believe that this additional committee reference will ensure a thoughtful debate on prison privatization, and I am hopeful that this will alleviate any concerns my fellow Senators may have,” he wrote.

Haridopolos fast-tracks privatization bills

Thursday, January 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos has fast-tracked two privatization bills, referring them to a single committee before they head to the floor for a full vote.

Haridopolos sent the bills to the Rules Committee that yesterday agreed to allow the measures to get a full vetting.

One of the measures (SB 2038) resurrects a prison privatization plan shot down by a Tallahassee judge last year because of the manner in which lawmakers ordered the outsourcing of the 18-county region of southern Florida’s corrections operations.

The other proposal (SB 2036) deals with Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling in the prison privatization case. Under that bill, lawmakers would be able to privatize any state functions by including the outsourcing in the budget state and without having public input until after the deals are done.

Although the privatization effort was not heard in any committees last year, the budget committee debated the proposal after it appeared one of the spending bills, Thrasher pointed out. He said he’s scheduled his next meeting, when the bills will be heard, to run for nearly four hours.

“It will get a full hearing,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said. “We will take those bills up first and we will take whatever time is necessary.”

Lawmakers have not, however, before taken time to debate the measure giving them the ability to include privatization directly in the budget.

“Because we hadn’t had the court decision. Now we’ve got the court decision,” Thrasher said.

UPDATE: Scott administration moves forward with prison privatization despite court ruling

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford will hold a hearing at 4:30 p.m. today on the privatization lawsuit. The Florida Police Benevolent Association is asking for an emergency stay to stop the procurement process.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration has re-opened bids on privatizating prisons in an 18-county region in southern Florida despite a recent court ruling that the way lawmakers ordered the privatization plan is unconstitutional.

Scott opted not to appeal. But Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday filed an appeal on behalf of the legislature challenging Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling. That appeal opened the door for state Department of Corrections officials to re-open the bids, Department of Corrections officials said in a press release issued late Thursday.

Bids will be due within a week but because of the ongoing court battle “the agency will not sign a contract until the litigation is complete,” the release said.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, which filed the lawsuit, intends to ask the First District Court of Appeals for an expedited hearing and is asking Fulford to reinstate the stay on the bids she previously ordered.

Boca Raton-based GEO Group is one of the contenders for the privatization plan intended to cost the state 7 percent less than what the department is currently spending on the region’s 29 prisons and other correctional operations.
Read the corrections department press release after the jump.

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Legislators appeal prison privatization ruling

Monday, October 31st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers have appealed a Tallahassee judge’s ruling that the way they ordered the privatization of prisons in the southern portion of the state was unconstitutional.

Attorney General Pam Bondi filed the appeal late Monday, the last day an appeal could be made. Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration was named in the lawsuit, decided not to appeal Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford’s decision.

But lawmakers, who included the privatization of 29 prisons and correctional operations in the 18-county region south of Polk County in the state budget passed this spring, asked Bondi to appeal on their behalf.

“Not only is the privatization of our state’s prisons good policy, but it ensures that our state can dedicate more money to education, health care or economic development programs that would otherwise be spent on prisons,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, who pushed the appeal, said in a statement.

Matt Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union representing correctional and probational workers which filed the lawsuit, said his group is “prepared to take this all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Scott won’t appeal prison privatization ruling

Monday, October 31st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott won’t appeal a circuit court judge’s ruling that a sweeping prison privatization plan included by state lawmakers in the budget is unconstitutional. Scott has until today to appeal the decision.

Read The Palm Beach Post story about why lawmakers would rather not appeal Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling that the way lawmakers went about the privatization plan, later signed into law by the first-term governor, was unconstitutional.

Scott told the Florida News Network early this afternoon he won’t appeal and that the plan will now go back to lawmakers, who are expected to pass it during their regular session that begins in January, then defended the proposal that would have required a single vendor to take over an 18-county region in South Florida, including 29 prisons and other corrections operations, for 7 percent less than what the Department of Corrections is now spending.

“We’re not going to file an appeal. It goes back to the legislature. But let’s all remember what we’re doing here,” Scott said at the airport before flying to Titusville for a Kennedy Space Center jobs announcement.

“You as a consumer, you expect your government to be efficient, right? You don’t want your government to waste money. So all that’s happening is your state legisalture with my support is saying look let’s figure out how we can save money. Let’s do the best job we can but let’s also make sure we’re not wasting taxpayer dollars. That’s what that program was supposed to do. So I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to do that,” Scott said. “We have a billion to $2 billion deficit this year….We’ve got to look at all the opportunities we can to do a gret job for the taxpayers of the state of Florida but not waste their money.”

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, which filed the lawsuit, applauded Scott’s decision, saying it would save 3,600 correctional workers’ jobs.

“The Florida PBA is pleased that Governor Scott and legislative leaders decided not to move forward with appealing the Court’s ruling that the legislature’s attempt to privatize public facilities through the budget was unconstitutional,” PBA executive director Matt Puckett said in a statement. “Now we need to educate the public and the legislature on the significant public safety issues and lack of significant savings associated with the privatization issue.”

Haridopolos on prison privatization, gambling and jobs

Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate President Mike Haridopolos defended lawmakers’ use of the budget to privatize an 18-county region from Polk County to the Florida Keys, said there would be a floor vote on an expansion of gambling and bragged about the state’s job growth in a Q-and-A with reporters this afternoon.

The Merritt Island Republican provided a detailed document to reporters as proof that talks about the nation’s largest prison privatization effort – now on hold after a Tallahassee circuit judge’s ruling that the way the legislature went about it was unconstitutional – had taken place in committees since January and not snuck into the budget at the last minute, as he said unnamed critics have implied. Although privatization was discussed at the meetings, lawmakers did not vote on or release details of any prison privatization plan until it was included in the state budget.

“I wanted to be very clear for those people who had concerns that this was something we stuck in late. This was addressed early and often and people all saw it coming both in the House and the Senate,” Haridopolos said.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents correctional workers, sued Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over the privatization, put by lawmakers into the budget in proviso language and signed into law by Scott this summer. Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford agreed with the union that the use of the proviso language to establish state policy was unconstitutional.

Scott has not yet decided whether to appeal but has said the privatization will happen eventually. And Haridopolos on Thursday said that the privatization will go forward, even if lawmakers have to pass a stand-alone bill when they reconvene in January. The proposal requires that the privatization of 29 prisons in the region cost at least 7 percent less than what the state currently spends – an estimated $22 million annual savings.

“I think the policy’s a good policy. We’re going to face another massive budget shortfall this year. And we’re going to spend more money on prisons and if we do we’ll spend less on education and health care,” Haridopolos said. “I guess other people have other priorities. My priority is to spend less on prisons.”

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