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Dockery takes a stand; McCollum, Sink don't

The most heated debate in Tallahassee today is expected to concern Sen. J.D. Alexander's plan to close two state-run prisons to populate the private Blackwater prison in the Panhandle.

Where do the three leading gubernatorial candidates stand on the issue?

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum dodged the issue and CFO Alex Sink, a Democrat, wasn't available for comment. Only upstart Republican candidate Paula Dockery, a state senator from Lakeland, took a stand. She called the deal "outrageous" and demanded a more thorough vetting.

McCollum's office issued a non-answer: "The Legislature is in the very early stages of the budget process, and I know they are facing tough decisions. I encourage them to continue to make public safety a top priority as they move forward in budget negotiations." His office didn't respond to follow-up questions.

And Sink's office said they couldn't reach her Tuesday evening.

As the candidates avoid the issue, state lawmakers worked behind closed doors late Tuesday to strike a compromise on Blackwater and the cuts to the Department of Corrections.

In the days since Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican, added the provision in his Senate budget committee, an outcry ensued -- led by Gov. Charlie Crist, prisons chief Walt McNeil and a growing number of lawmakers concerned about prisons in their districts.

Top level discussions between Alexander, Senate President Jeff Atwater and Sen. Al Lawson, whose district includes a prison possibly on the chopping block, took place Tuesday evening. Lawson is sponsoring an amendment to cut the Blackwater deal from the budget and some form of his plan is likely to win approval on the Senate floor today.