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Sen. Nan Rich seeks to block inmate health care outsourcing

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, has lodged a formal objection to the Legislature giving final approval to budget transfers that would allow the prison system to privatize health care for 100,000 inmates. Rich wrote a letter to Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who chairs the 14-member Legislative Budget Commission. The prison system has asked the LBC to approve a transfer of $58 million between budget categories so the agency can move forward with the privatization and implement it by Jan. 1, 2013.

The LBC generally functions as a rubber-stamp for mid-year changes to agencies' budgets, and in the past, an objection from a single lawmaker has carried great weight.  

The outsourcing of health care in Florida prisons has a checkered history, and this latest venture is highly controversial because it was created under budget proviso language that expired June 30 when the previous fiscal year ended. "But for the proviso, the appropriation would not be made," Rich wrote. "Consequently, I believe the DOC does not have the authority to privatize health services in prisons."

Unions representing state workers and nurses in the prison system have threatened to file a new lawsuit seeking to block the project from going forward.

Rich's effort to block the privatization comes as the leading vendor, Corizon Health, has agreed to pay a $1.85 million fine to the city of Philadelphia because of irregularities in its handling of a contract in that city's jail system. More background here.

-- Steve Bousquet