Prison Privatization Decision Appealed By Attorney General Bondi

Posted: November 7, 2011 in News and politics

Lawmakers could also still pass the plan as a bill
during the 2012 session.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: Monday, October 31,
2011 at 11:15 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE | At the request of legislative leaders, Attorney General Pam
Bondi on Monday overruled a decision by Gov. Rick Scott and appealed a court
ruling that struck down a Florida prison privatization plan.

Scott’s office earlier in the day had announced he’d decided against an
appeal. Hours later, though, Bondi filed one anyway, barely beating the 30-day
deadline.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the plan to privatize nearly 30
South Florida prisons as a cost-cutting measure.

“Not only is the privatization of our state’s prisons good policy, but it
ensures that our state can dedicate more money to education, health care or
economic development programs that would otherwise be spent on prisons,” Senate
President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement.

Last month, a judge in Tallahassee ruled lawmakers violated the Florida
Constitution by putting the provision in the $69.1 billion state budget instead
of passing it as a separate bill.

“The case is a pure question of legislative power, which makes the
Legislature and the attorney general best suited to litigate this case,” said
Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz.

The attorney general has the authority to act on her own to defend a state
law even if that’s against the wishes of her client, which in this case is
Scott’s Department of Corrections, said Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale.

The challenge from the Police Benevolent Association, which represents prison
guards, now will go to the 1st District Court of Appeal. PBA spokesman Ken
Kopczynski said the union is prepared to fight the case all the way to the
Florida Supreme Court.

Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling was a setback for private prison
companies such as the Geo Group Inc. and Corrections Corporation of America.

“It definitely sounds to me that the Geos of the world got to somebody late
in the game,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who opposes
prison privatization.

Haridopolos also said he believes putting the privatization plan in the
budget instead of passing a stand-alone law is a valid exercise of legislative
authority.

In her ruling, though, Fulford wrote that the privatization plan violated
constitutional provisions limiting all laws to a single subject and the state
budget to appropriating money for current expenses. She cited two prior Supreme
Court decisions in similar cases to back up her ruling.

“We’re not breaking any new ground here,” said PBA lawyer Hal Johnson.

Nearly 4,000 of the union’s members would stand to lose their jobs if the
privatization provision is upheld.

A privatization contract would be contingent on cutting costs by 7 percent at
29 prisons in 18 South Florida counties. Legislative leaders estimated an annual
savings of $22 million.

The PBA had disputed the accuracy of that estimate.

The current-year savings would have been less. That’s because the contract
would not have begun until the middle of the budget year, which began July 1.
The budget year could be over by the time the court case is resolved,
particularly if it goes to the Supreme Court.

Besides the appeal, lawmakers still could pass the plan as a separate bill
during their 2012 session, which begins Jan. 10.

Such a bill likely would be heard by several legislative panels, including a
budget subcommittee chaired by Fasano that oversees prison spending.

During the last legislative session, Senate Budget Committee Chairman J.D.
Alexander, R-Lake Wales, put the privatization plan in the budget bill without
submitting the proposal to Fasano’s subcommittee. Alexander said Fasano had a
closed mind on the issue and had been co-opted by the PBA.

As a result, the issue didn’t come to a floor vote on its own but as part of
the budget.

The House initially did not have a prison privatization plan in its version
of the budget but later added a provision limited to Miami-Dade and Broward
counties. The House, though, accepted the Senate’s more expansive version in
budget negotiations.

 

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