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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 guard stabbed to death by inmate

Monday, March 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Convicted murderer Richard Franklin is accused of killing a 24-year-old Columbia Correctional Institution Annex prison guard in Lake City late last night, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

Franklin is serving a life sentence for his 1995 conviction of the shotgun death of a Bethune-Cookman student. Franklin, now 37, was 20 years old at the time of the crime.

Sgt. Ruben Thomas was stabbed in the neck with a handmade weapon around 10 p.m. last night, according to a DOC press release. Witnesses said Franklin killed him, according to the release. Correctional Officer William Brewer was also assaulted in the incident. Brewer hospitalized and released but requires further medical attention, the release said.

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement expressing condolences for Ruben’s family and assuring that “Florida is a safe place to live.”

“I am saddened to learn of the tragic death of Sgt. Ruben Thomas last night at the Columbia Correctional Institute annex. My deepest condolences go to his family and fellow correctional officers in Columbia County and across Florida. A second officer, William Brewer, was also assaulted during the attack, and I pray for his quick recovery,” Scott said in the release.

“It is always troubling when members of our law enforcement community lose their lives in the line of duty. These brave men and women dedicate themselves each day to ensure Florida is a safe place to live. We all need to remember the sacrifices and heroic efforts of our officers.”

DOC Secretary Ken Tucker issued a statement calling Thomas a “solid and highly respected” worker.

“The Department is mourning the loss of Sgt. Ruben Thomas. Sgt. Thomas is described as a solid and highly respected member of the Agency and will be remembered in the highest regard. Our condolences go out to his family”, Tucker said. “His death and the wounding of Correctional Officer Brewer is another reminder about the danger Department personnel face every day on the job, and reminds us of the seriousness of our profession.”

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.

UPDATE: Senate defeats prison privatization bill

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012 by Dara Kam

_ In a rebuke to Senate President Mike Haridopolos and his lieutenants, a bipartisan coalition defeated a plan that would have privatized two dozen prisons and other corrections facilities, putting an end to the controversial proposal with three weeks left in the legislative session.

The plan, a priority of Haridopolos and Senate budget chief JD Alexander, would have moved more than 14,000 inmates in 24 state-run prisons and work camps and put more than 3,500 state workers out of a job.

Nine Republicans joined with a united Democratic caucus of 12 to kill the measure (SB 2038) on a 21-19 vote after weeks of intense lobbying by proponents, including Gov. Rick Scott, handing a victory to labor unions and a blow to Boca Raton-based GEO Group, a potential vendor.

“I accept the verdict of the Senate,” Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, told reporters after the vote Tuesday evening. “Tomorrow’s a new day.”

The proposal, the brainchild of Senate budget chief JD Alexander, would have been the largest single prison privatization effort in the nation.

But questionable savings, concerns about public safety and the role of government dragged down the undertaking and created a rift within the GOP caucus as the chamber prepares to vote on its $70.6 billion spending plan.

“We can’t have it both ways. If everybody’s lock-step, they complain that everybody’s lock-step. If Republicans vote their conscience, then supposedly there’s a rift. I don’t think there’s any of that,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who at midday appeared resigned that the bill was going to die. “This is not uncommon…The Senate’s always been very independent. It doesn’t concern me a bit.”

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 critics say they will kill the bill on tie vote in Senate Tuesday

Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Dara Kam

A key senator who helped kill an amendment that would have stripped a controversial prison privatization measure and replaced it with a study said he will vote against the measure on Tuesday in what opponents predict will be a tie vote.

“I liked the concept of the study. But I like the idea of just killing the bill better,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, one of a gang of nine Republicans who have joined with all but one Democrat whose coalition would kill the measure on a 20-20 vote.

Sen. Paula Dockery, one of the leading GOP senators opposed to the privatization plan (SB 2038), insisted after the 21-19 vote on the amendment late Monday that her coalition will put the issue to rest on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

“We do not lose anybody who’s going to be here to vote. My only concern is does somebody get sick, does somebody whatever. But our 20 are solid, 100 percent, anti-, don’t want this to happen. Twenty very solid votes,” Dockery, R-Lakeland said.

The Senate was originally scheduled to be in session in the morning, but late Monday Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher announced on the floor the session had been postponed until later in the afternoon. Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat, was originally slated to be out of town tomorrow afternoon.

Later Monday evening, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich said Ring’s travel plans were changed so he could be in the Capitol for the vote.

“He’ll be here,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

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.

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.

More reshuffling at corrections – new deputy and Will Kendrick now legislative affairs director

Thursday, November 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker has brought in one of his former colleagues from the Department of Law Enforcement as his deputy secretary and hired a former lawmaker as his legislative liaison, according to an internal memo distributed by Tucker’s staff.

Tucker, a top staffer at FDLE before being tapped by Gov. Rick Scott to head the agency after Scott ousted former secretary Ed Buss, has hired Michael Crews as his deputy secretary. Crews, whose resume includes stints as a correctional officer and a probation officer, most recently served as FDLE’s “professionalism program director,” according to the memo.

And Tucker also hired former state representative Will Kendrick. A familiar face at legislative criminal justice committee meetings, Kendrick had been working in the same capacity for the Florida Parole Commission. Kendrick replaces Allen Mortham, son of former secretary of state Sandy Mortham, who “resigned to pursue other opportunities,” according to Tucker’s memo.

Tucker’s been operating sans deputy since the exodus last month of Dan Ronay, Buss’s second-in-command.

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