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Judge declines to rule on prison health care dispute

The state's circuit court will not rule on whether legislators broke the law in their push for what would have been the country's most sweeping overhaul of the prison healthcare system, leaving the year-long dispute unresolved.

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll declined to give an opinion Monday on whether lawmakers violated the constitution by using fine-print budget language--called proviso-- to issue a massive outsourcing of inmate health care.

Lawmakers hoped the change would cut prison health care costs by 7 percent. But two employee unions sued the state for tucking such a massive change into the budget rather than vetting it through the Legislature's long-standing committee structure.

Carroll's order says any court opinion would be moot because the 2011 budget, which contains the language on prison health privatization, expired Saturday. There is no provision in the 2012 budget that calls for privatization of inmate health services.

Plaintiffs also asked the court to forbid the Department of Corrections from future outsourcing of prison health services, but Carroll refused the request.

"The law is clear in Florida that the circuit court cannot give advisory opinions," the ruling states.

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