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Court strikes down prison privatization again, says lawmakers can't delegate job

For the second time in over a year, a state judge has ruled that the Florida Legislature violated the law when it tried to privatize the state’s role in operating prisons.Download Corizon and Wexford

Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper on Tuesday struck down an attempt by the Florida Legislature to privatize prison healthcare by using a budgetary process instead of making the change through a full vote of lawmakers.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Department of Corrections said they would appeal the ruling, warning that the state now faces a $90 million deficit because they had counted saving that much over the next two years by having private contractors provide prison healthcare.

Cooper said that the Legislature had the power to contract its prison health services to private, for-profit companies, but it went about it the wrong way. Rather than put the issue up for a full vote — and face likely defeat — legislative leaders chose to rely on the 14-member Legislative Budget Commission to authorize the change during its September meeting.

“While the State of Florida does have authority to privatize prison healthcare throughout the state, the full Legislature must do so by passing the appropriate funding mechanism specifically directed to that goal,’’ Cooper wrote in his 12-page ruling. “Authorizing and funding privatizing health services in Florida’s prisons is the prerogative of the full Legislature and not that of the Legislative Budget Commission.”

The ruling is the second rebuke to legislative leaders in just over a year as they have struggled to usher in prison privatization without putting the controversial concept to a full vote. Unions and legislators from rural counties, where the prison industry is strong, have been the most vocal opponents.

In October 2011, Leon County Judge Jackie Fulford ruled unconstitutional an attempt to privatize prisons in 18 South Florida counties after legislators tucked the provision in budget proviso language and failed to use a separate bill.

Faced with the court’s slap down, the Florida Senate returned with a bill in February 2012, but it failed on a 21-19 vote as nine Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat it.

Rather than force another difficult vote, legislative leaders included a line item in the 2012-13 budget authorizing the privatization of the prison healthcare system for only the South Florida region. A contract with Wexford Health System is pending approval for that program.

Legislative leaders then waited until the September meeting of the Legislative Budget Commission to propose an amendment that would expand the program from just South Florida to the rest of the state. The LBC adopted a budget amendment that allowed for a $259 million contract to hire Nashville-based Corizon Correctional Health Care to handle prison healthcare in regions I, II and III.

Cooper ruled the Corizon contract was invalid because it was not authorized by the Legislature and did not fall under the requirement that amendments by the LBC be “limited” adjustments to the budget.

“Whether to privatize some of all of this state’s prison operations is a significant policy decision,’’ Cooper wrote. “... It is the duty of the full legislature, not a small group of select legislators to make policy decisions on spending.’’

He said the law requires that changes to the budget approved by the LBC follow the Legislature’s intent, “not new policy/spending priority decisions that could have been but were not passed by the full Legislature. Otherwise, the exception swallows the rule, allowing a small handful of legislators to rewrite the [budget.]”

Florida Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Mike Crews said Tuesday that the state will appeal the ruling and that it creates an anticipated budget shortfall of up to $90 million over the next 18 months.

“This will jeopardize other department needs and legislative budget priorities which could include additional reductions in staffing and program services,’’ Crews said. “While we work to resolve this issue the department will continue to provide constitutionally required healthcare services to inmates."

Melissa Sellers, spokeswoman for the governor, warned that the budget shortfall could affect funding for critical priorities such as increasing K-12 education funding.

The unions will seek an injunction asking the court to immediately order the state to halt the contracts, said Alma Gonzalez, lawyer for AFSCME.

The ruling could have precedent-setting implications for future budget decisions, she said.

Comments

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squibb

Never mind that privitizing the Florida prison system would save florida taxpayers 60 million dollars a year. Guess that does not matter. Preserving overpaid and over-benefitted union jobs must be more important. No wonder the USA is broke and private sector manufacturing and other jobs have gone overseas. No one can afford union workers except a bloated broke governmnet that overcharges taxpayers and goes into debt to pay the overpaid union workers. Great job!
Hope this is appealed further. Getting the cheapest deal for taxpayers is what matters. Unions can eat shi*!!

Gayle

You are such an idiot, the bid was 15 million higher than what the loyal state worlers were doing it for to begin with, you need to do your homework before you run your stupid mouth!!

State Employee

Who do you think belongs to these Unions, squibb? Union members are residents of this state by the hundreds of thousands. We pay taxes too. We arent asking the moon as state employees, we are just asking for fair living wages that allow us to pay our bills....just like you at your job. I'm a state employee, and have been for over 15 years...and I make just over 30K a year. I do a job that few are willing to do, but is very necessary... one that private companies have shown a blatant inability to do as safely as as cheaply as the state does it.

Before you claim that Union members are ruining the state, remember that we spend our money in here just like you do. Without the thousands of us making fair living wages, the economy would go back to the horrible state it was in 2 or 3 years ago. The economy is and has been slowly picking back up, and will continue to do so as long as the governement gets the heck out of the way. the state persists in claiming the economy is still failing so they can continue to strip money from the budget and funnel it into private industries that they own interests in.

Ignorant people like you are only repeating the lies and misdirection that they are feeding you in the mainstream media.

Disgruntled Tax Payer

OK Lets Privatize Prisons, and their healthcare. While you're at it, Privatize the Fire Department, EMS, and police forces as well. Call 911 because someone broke into your house and hear the private cop tell you they can't come because their unit isn't able to handle armed robberies. Call 911 because your house is on fire, fire dept says they can't help you because thye only handle chemical fires. Call 911 because you're having a heart attack, EMS says they can't help because their ambulance is not equipped for heart problems. That's what you run the risk of happening when you privatize government. Agencies that are so restricted because either their budgets are low, or they refuse to handle certain situations. Privatizing ANYTHING public safety oriented is a major mistake. Union or not. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

state worker

Iam a state worker..I am a nurse and work at one of our state prisons.We are underpaid by state standards.Yes we do have great benifits, but lets face it state pay is almost poverty level.We all put our lifes on the line every day we enter those gates.So before you judge get the facts!!The governor went behind the peoples back and had a select few decide our fate as state employees. The governor new damn well that the state as a whole would of veto'ed the private prison bill.Also did you know that being private puts people at risk.....do your homework and get your facts right before you run your mouth!!!!

state worker

Did you know that the privatization only covers pay for Md,nurses and small amount of staff. The state is still responsible for all meds and special md visits for all inmates.So, how is that gonna save money?????

John Bellovich

Squibb. Stop drinking the tea party cool-aid. Privatization does not save money. FDOC tried it with food service. Aramark low balled the contract, then raised it again, Trinity Corp then took over with a low ball bid, then raised the price, Now the state is back to running food service CHEAPER than the privateers! Privatization does not save money. It only makes money for the CEOs who give big buck to the
Florida Republican Party.

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