Lawmakers Could OK Prison Privatization Plan by Jim Saunders

Posted: June 27, 2012 in News and politics

TALLAHASSEE | With a judge still deciding whether the plan is constitutional, a legislative budget panel this month is expected to consider moving forward with the privatization of prison health services.

The Department of Corrections has requested that the Legislative Budget Commission, a joint panel of House and Senate members, take up the privatization issue June 26 and allow signing contracts with firms that would manage inmate health care.

The request comes as Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll gets ready to rule on a challenge to a legislative move last year that directed the department to go through the contracting process. The Florida Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees argue lawmakers violated the state constitution by putting the privatization plan in budget fine print — known as “proviso” language — instead of approving it in a more typical bill.

Carroll heard arguments in the case May 29 but has not issued a ruling. The budget proviso calls for the department to get approval from the Legislative Budget Commission before finalizing contracts.

It was not immediately clear what would happen if Carroll rules that the Legislature’s use of proviso language was unconstitutional. But one likely factor in taking the issue to the Legislative Budget Commission this month is that the proviso language expires with the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

“The qualified bids received substantially meet or exceed the requirements in proviso,” the agency said in a document submitted to the Legislature. “The department is requesting Legislative Budget Commission approval of the selected health-care awards so the agency can move forward executing the health-care contracts.”

Carroll even raised questions during the May 29 hearing about what happens if the legal issues remain unresolved at the end of the current fiscal year. Regardless of when he rules, Carroll said he expects the losing party to appeal.

Jonathan Glogau, a lawyer for the state, said Carroll needed to decide whether the contracting process should go forward.

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