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State back in court, fighting to privatize inmate health care

Gov. Rick Scott's administration was back in a familiar place Tuesday -- a Florida courtroom -- as it fights to privatize all medical care for the state's 100,000 prison inmates. Two labor unions are challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature's decision in 2011 to mandate the outsourcing of all inmate health care through budget language known as proviso, not by passing a stand-alone bill.

The state says this is legal. Two labor unions say it's not. The Florida Nurses Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sued the state, employing many of the same arguments another union used last year in its successful challenge to the planned privatization of South Florida prisons.

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll in Tallahassee listened to two hours of arguments but did not render a decision. Whichever way he rules is sure to be challenged at the First District Court of Appeal.

The talk in the courtroom was all legalese about the constitutionality of the proviso, but this case is really about jobs, and people such as Doreen Von Oven, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Milton. After six-and-a-half years there, she's earning $33,488 a year. She likes her job and worries about losing pay, benefits and job security if her job is privatized.

"I have a lot at stake," said Von Oven, whose husband retired from the prison system for medical reasons, which requires her to provide insurance for her family. "My own personal belief is that I don't believe that any part of incarceration should be a for-profit thing. We have a responsibility to take care of inmates and provide proper health care."      

-- Steve Bousquet