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Support for private prisons shaky in Senate

As the Florida Senate prepares to begin debate on a bill that privatizes nearly 30 South Florida prisons and work camps, support from rank-and-file senators is weakening and unions and other groups are ramping up their opposition.

The legislation (SB 2038) is a high priority of the Senate leadership, but an informal and incomplete head count suggests that GOP leaders lack a solid majority of votes. They need 21 votes for passage, and 11 of the 12 Senate Democrats are in opposition (all but Gary Siplin of Orlando). The Republicans' real problem is in their own caucus, where these nine Republican senators are either firmly in opposition or will not commit to voting yes: Charlie Dean, Nancy Detert, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Paula Dockery, Greg Evers, Mike Fasano, Dennis Jones, Jack Latvala, Steve Oelrich and Ronda Storms.

"I would not consider myself as being in favor," Storms said Tuesday. The Hillsborough lawmaker, known for her careful attention to detail on key issues, said she hasn't had enough time to do her "due diligence" on prison privatization. When Storms is in doubt, she votes no.

Detert, a maverick Republican from Venice, said: "We probably need to have a study and joint meetings where we lay it out for everybody as to why this is a good thing."

In fact, Fasano, the leader of the anti-privatization bloc in the Senate, has drafted an amendment to do just that: State economists would spend a year on a "thorough and complete financial impact analysis of the costs and benefits of privatizing and closing prisons in this state." -- Steve Bousquet