Prison Privatization Plan Will Go to Budget Panel by Jim Saunders

Posted: January 28, 2012 in News and politics

TALLAHASSEE | Senate President Mike Haridopolos said Friday he will send a controversial prison-privatization plan to another committee for review — but stopped short of fulfilling a request by Sen. Mike Fasano for greater scrutiny.

Fasano, R-New Port Richey, sent a letter to Haridopolos arguing that bills dealing with the privatization plan are of “such a magnitude” that they deserve to be heard by three committees that focus on criminal-justice and government-oversight issues.

“In my opinion a subject as complex as prison privatization should have been referred to the substantive committees that oversee this subject matter (i.e. Criminal Justice, Governmental Oversight and Accountability and Criminal & Civil Justice Appropriations),” wrote Fasano, chairman of the Criminal & Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. “The Senate has a rich history as a deliberative body that examines and allows for full vetting of proposed policy changes both major and minor.”

Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, released a memo a short time later saying he would send the primary privatization bill (SB 2038) to the Budget Committee, which is chaired by Sen. JD Alexander, a chief proponent of privatization. Until that announcement, the bill had only been assigned to the Rules Committee.

In the memo, Haridopolos said he decided to “proceed in an abundance of caution” after hearing concerns from senators about the issue, which would lead to privatizing prisons in 18 counties in the southern half of the state. But he also defended his handling of the plan, saying it was fully considered and approved by the Senate during the 2011 legislative session.

Lawmakers included the privatization plan in the fine print of the 2011-12 budget. But a Leon County circuit judge rejected that decision, saying such a plan had to be approved in state law.

Haridopolos and Alexander, R-Lake Wales, say the plan would save tens of millions of dollars for the state, though it is vehemently opposed by correctional officers.

In defending his handling of the issue, Haridopolos also said in the memo that he had “authored an opinion piece stating my position that it is paramount that we prioritize our state’s spending by privatizing prisons, which has the potential to save a minimum of 22 million taxpayer dollars that I firmly believe are better spent on education, health care and economic development.”

The Senate Rules Committee is scheduled to take up the issue Monday, and Haridopolos’ memo said it will go to the Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Copyright © 2012 — All rights reserved. Restricted use only.

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