Here's how Florida's prisons were nearly privatized without anyone knowing about it. In a rather arrogant and high-handed move, Republican lawmakers tucked a secret provision into the budget right at the end of the frenzied 2011 legislative session
October 5, 2011

Here's how Florida's prisons were nearly privatized without anyone knowing about it. In a rather arrogant and high-handed move, Republican lawmakers tucked a secret provision into the budget right at the end of the frenzied 2011 legislative session requiring private companies to take over 29 prisons by January 1st. Of course, it was all intended to union-bust and replace nearly 3800 union employees with minimum-wage private company replacements.

Turner and Johnson said Sen. JD Alexander, a Lake Wales Republican and budget chairman, placed the privatization language in the budget after the prisons portion had cleared earlier committees that would have opposed the move.

Assistant Attorney General Jon Glogau argued that legislators have wide authority to tell departments how to use appropriated funds. He said the Legislature didn't have to pass a stand-alone statute to privatize prisons because the state has had a law for 20 years allowing the DOC to outsource some prison operations.

How many, and where those prisons will be, is up to the Legislature, Glogau said. He said every budget item embodies some form of policy choice and that House and Senate appropriations committees and subcommittees held many public hearings on all phases of the budget, including the final product.

"Slippery-slope arguments are hyperbole, at best," Glogau said. He said agencies have executive authority to organize, operate and staff their offices most efficiently.

"Privatization of prisons is a unilateral right of the employer," said Glogau. "I don't want to make light of the fact that people are losing their jobs but, under the facts and the case law, it is the unilateral right of the public employer to do this."

That sneaky Senator. After the prison portions cleared committees who might have noticed, much less have agreed to it, he slipped it in there. Despite all the false bravado, there seems to be at least a small concern that it might not be one hundred percent on the level, since the good Governor Scott pressured former Florida Corrections overseer Ed Buss not to testify or give a deposition before the case was heard. Fortunately the unions were paying attention, and took it to court. Last Friday, Judge Jackie Fulford ruled the scheme unconstitutional.

There is a cynical, criminal aspect to this whole scheme, in much the same way that Governor Walker rammed through his "reforms" in Wisconsin.

Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford found that a plan to privatize 29 state prisons in South Florida is unconstitutional because lawmakers wrote the change into the state budget instead of passing separate legislation. Governors from both political parties and legislatures controlled by either Republicans and Democrats similarly have been overruled by the courts over the past 40 years for using the state budget to slip in significant changes to state law. That often happens when those policy changes can't stand up to public scrutiny or don't have enough support among rank-and-file lawmakers to be approved on their own merits.

In this case, Scott and influential legislators such as Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander of Lake Wales were determined to pursue one of the nation's largest privatization efforts no matter what. In the Senate, Alexander quietly stuck language into the budget to privatize prisons — to the surprise of the chairman of the committee that oversees criminal justice spending, Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey. And Scott fired his Department of Corrections secretary after he questioned the wisdom of the privatization effort and supported the lawsuit filed by the union that represents state prison guards. It's probably just a coincidence that the Boca Raton company expected to win the new prison contract, GEO Group, had 16 lobbyists in Tallahassee, donated $25,000 to Scott's inaugural celebration and once employed Scott's key outside budget adviser.

Yeah, sure that's coincidence. Just like it's coincidence that CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Governors' Association in 2010 so they could land the fat privatization contracts in those governors' states.

Not that it should surprise anyone, but this is standard operating procedure for these insane Republican governors. If you can't win by legal and straightforward means, just go ahead and slip it in there where no one will notice. And if they happen to notice anyway, just stare them down and claim you're perfectly right about screwing state employees. And if that doesn't work, pray for a friendly judge.

Rick Scott drew the short straw this time, so I expect his next move will be stacking the Florida court system with judges of his choice. What a good ole boy he is.

Oh, and such good news for Florida! Tricky Ricky plans to run again in 2014!!!!

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