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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 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.

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.

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.”

Judge orders Scott admin to ‘cease and desist’ prison privatization bidding

Saturday, November 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A Tallahassee judge has ordered Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration to “cease and desist” the bidding process for a prison privatization plan she earlier ruled was unconstitional.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford late Friday night put the brakes on Department of Corrections officials’ attempt to bypass her earlier decision that the way lawmakers ordered the privatization of the 18-county region in the southern portion of the start violated the state constitution.

In her order, Fulford pointed out that corrections officials reneged on a pledge made Thursday not to move forward with the bidding before a Nov. 16 hearing. Later the same day, the department announced it was reopening the procurement and bids would be accepted after Nov. 10, Fulford wrote.

Fulford ruled on Sept. 30 that lawmakers should not have included the privatization plan in the must-pass state budget but instead should have ordered it in a stand-alone bill.

Scott opted not to appeal, but Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a last-minute appeal late Monday on behalf of state lawmakers, setting the stage for Friday’s court showdown.

In granting the emergency stay to the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Fulford wrote that “defendants are not likely to succeed on the merits on appeal.”

(more…)

Fla GOP’s $3.5 million cash collection includes timely Jax dog track donation

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Florida Republican Party pulled in $3.5 million in the three months ending June 30, more than three times that collected by state Democrats during the span, new finance records show.

Health care companies, a private prison firm, and utilities were among the GOP’s biggest givers — cash that tracked some of the biggest issues of the 2011 legislative session, ongoing for most of the reporting period.

Still, a relatively modest $5,000 contribution from Jacksonville Greyhound Racing is noteworthy because of its timing. The check was posted by the party on May 6 — the same day the Orange Park dog track played a central role in the chaotic closing hours of the Legislature.

A duel between the House and Senate over a tax break for the track — a political favorite of Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine — forced the session to spill into overtime.

 The House insisted on removing the tax break from what was considered must-pass legislation, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, later said he was “embarrassed” by the stand-off between the two chambers, which also drew veiled questions about the U.S. Senate contender’s leadership skills.

Other GOP contributions were more conventional — and cash-laden. U.S. Sugar Corp., donated $225,000, Nextera Energy, the parent company of Juno Beach-base Florida Power & Light, gave $250,000, and the Boca Raton-based Geo Group, which hopes to gain a big portion of the state’s plan to privatize prisons across 18 counties, including Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, gave $100,000 to the Florida GOP.

Privatization dust-up: Was Fasano too mean to Scott’s peeps?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Fasano says he’s not sorry for being harsh with Gov. Rick Scott’s aides at a budget meeting last week.

Scott’s policy and budget staff skipped Fasano’s meeting this morning after Scott ordered them not to show up because of Fasano’s angry questioning about the governor’s plan to do away with more than 1,800 prison jobs.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander told reporters “an apology is in order” after saying Fasano’s treatment of Scott’s staff was “not ideal.”

Fasano said no mea culpa is forthcoming.

“Why would I apologize?” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.

Scott’s staff should have been better prepared to answer his questions, Fasano said.

“I don’t know what it was,” he said of this morning’s snub. “I thought it was a bit childish.”

(more…)

Deal struck on private prisons

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by Dara Kam

After intense opposition to a prison privatization plan linked to disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom and slipped into the budget late last week, Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander has apparently backed off his proposal to shut down up to three prisons and outsource another.

Alexander’s plan drew allegations of foul play from the Police Benevolent Association, the powerful union that represents prison guards and frequently backs GOP candidates, and Gov. Charlie Crist’s Secretary of Corrections Walt McNeil.

The privatization plan would have shut down enough prisons to fill the Blackwater facility in the Panhandle that the state hired Boca Raton-based Geo Group Inc. to build and operate. But the prison population hasn’t grown as anticipated and there aren’t enough inmates to fill the 2,224-bed Blackwater without shutting down other state-run prisons and putting guards out of work.

McNeil said Friday he would have to shut down five prisons and let inmates out early to comply with a federal court order under the Senate’s proposal that would cut about $60 million in salaries.

Under the new plan, expected to be introduced as a budget amendment today by Democratic Leader Al Lawson, the department would gradually fill Blackwater by closing 17 dorms in other prisons, something McNeil favors.

Critics of the proposal also filed complaints with State Attorney Willie Meggs and U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirwin, both in Leon County, alleging that the Blackwater deal was done in secrecy and questioning Sansom’s association with it. Sansom put the original $110 million to the build the prison into the 2008 budget in a floor amendment and tried to guarantee that it would be built as an annex to the Graceville prison that Geo operates.

UPDATE: Senate budget chief privatization push would shut down three state prisons, axe at least 639 guards

Thursday, March 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander just got a reluctant Senate Ways and Means Committee to sign off on his prison privatization plan that would shut down three prisons and put more than 600 prison guards out of work.

Alexander’s late-filed budget amendment, offered during the committee meeting this afternoon, drew protests from the PBA and some committee members, including Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee Chairman Victor Crist.

Alexander’s plan is to open the new Blackwater prison in the Panhandle, a 1,350-bed facility the state paid more than $160 million to build but is not yet operating. Boca Raton-based private corrections company Geo Group would run the prison, Alexander said, saving the state about $20 million a year and doing away with 639 prison guard jobs. The state corrections department would be ordered to shut down two prisons to fill the 2,200-bed facility, saving the state about $24 million a year, according to Alexander’s amendment.

(more…)

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