Legislature renews push to privatize Florida's prisons

After the legislation passed last year, the Florida Police Benevolent filed a lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott and his administration, saying the privatization was unconstitutional because it was included in language in the must-pass budget instead of a stand-alone bill. A Tallahassee judge agreed.

The Vice Chair of the Rules Committee, Polk County's J.D. Alexander, said that if the legislature decided to privatize a specific region of the state's prisons, $40 million could be saved and used to fund the deficit with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (ADP), which "might be a legitimate thing to do." He said that would be a "legitimate budget decision, that, quite frankly, shouldn't be blocked by a court."

Thrasher said that Tallahassee Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford identified three statutes that needed to be clarified if the legislation could be passed this time around.

Daytona Beach GOP state Senator Evelyn Lynn said she had concerns that the laws would allow for privatization effort to be exempt from evaluating whether the plan actually saves money, and said she hopes that issue is discussed when it moves to committee, saying, "That would be a concern to anybody."

In the brief hearing, several employees with the state's Department of Corrections pleaded with legislators not to go the privatization route. The Florida PBA says the privatization plan would cause more than 3,500 prison workers to lose their jobs.

Among the DOC officials who spoke at the hearing was Christina Bullens, a probation officer in Miami Gardens. She mentioned a series of alternative measures that the state could utilize that would save money in lieu of privatizing.

The meeting was only a preliminary vote to determine whether the Senate would hold substantive hearings on the measure. Now they will.

Proposed legislation in the Florida state Senate that would privatize 29 prisons and correctional facilities in 18 Florida counties won approval in the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday afternoon in Tallahassee, and now will be taken up by other committees in the Legislature.

Only Democrats Chris Smith and Gwen Margolis objected to the measure moving on.

The legislation was actually approved last year, but it's inclusion as a proviso in the state budget was found to be unconstitutional by a circuit court judge last September. That ruling is on appeal, but the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by John Thrasher, is attempting to push it through again this year.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.