Prison Health Care Privatization Challenged by Bill Kaczor

Posted: June 5, 2012 in News and politics

TALLAHASSEE | Lawyers for public employee unions and a pair of nurses urged a judge Wednesday to block a plan for privatizing health care in Florida’s prisons.

They cited the same legal arguments that resulted in another judge’s decision stopping the privatization of 29 South Florida prison facilities. The Legislature was ruled in violation of the Florida Constitution because it made that policy decision through a budget provision rather than by passing a stand-alone law.

The unions contend the health care privatization plan likewise violated a constitutional provision limiting each bill to a single subject to prohibit what’s known as “log rolling.” It’s the practice of attaching unrelated provisions, which may not be able pass on their own, to more popular or important measures such as the must-pass budget.

“No matter how wise it may be to privatize health care services in whole or in part, that was never vetted through the normal legislative process,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Thomas Brooks. “That is the evil that the single subject rule is designed to prevent.”

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll said he hoped to rule next week in the health care case. But he acknowledged his decision will be appealed regardless of how it comes out.

That’s what happened after Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled the Republican-led Legislature violated the state constitution in the South Florida privatization case. The 1st District Court of Appeal is scheduled to hear oral argument June 27 in the state’s appeal.

One of the health care plaintiffs, Doreen Von Oven, said after the hearing that there’s a feeling of “fear” among her colleagues.

“If a private company comes in, basically they can just let you go (if) they just don’t like you,” said Von Oven. She’s a licensed practical nurse at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution near Milton in the Panhandle.

Fulford wrote in October that lawmakers could have legally ordered the privatization through a stand-alone bill rather than the budget provision.

The Republican-led Legislature attempted to do that in February, but the bill failed 21-19 in the Senate.

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