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State loses yet another round in prison privatization saga

Yet another legal setback for Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature in their efforts to expand privatization in state prisons.

The First District Court of Appeal on Tuesday dismissed the state's appeal of a lower-court decision that struck down as unconstitutional a plan to privatize more than two dozen prisons in South Florida. The decision was on procedural grounds, not on the merits of privatization.

Attorney General Pam Bondi had filed the appeal on behalf of the Legislature, which was not a party to the original suit -- a maneuver the judges struck down, saying Bondi had no right to appeal. "Like any other non-party in the trial court, the attorney general lacks standing to initiate an appeal on her own," the judges wrote. "Non-parties whose rights have not been adjudicated have no right of appeal." 

The original lawsuit was brought by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the former union for correctional officers. The PBA challenged the attempt to privatize prisons through fine-print budget language known as proviso, and Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford agreed that the action was illegal.

"This (appellate) ruling reaffirmed our argument that the attorney general did not have the authority to appeal the lower court's decision," PBA Executive Director Matt Puckett said. "This was never more than the Legislature's last-second attempt to privatize public prisons in South Florida." 

Scott was not a party to the case, either, but he tried valiantly last spring to convince the Legislature to privatize prisons generally south of Lake Okeechobee. But nine Republican senators joined with all 12 Democrats in defeating the plan in the Senate on a 21-19 vote.

-- Steve Bousquet