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Prison Health Care Privatization Back in Court

November 20, 2012 | WMFE - The Florida Department of Corrections is engaged in a continuing legal dispute over whether it can privatize the state's inmate health care services. A Legislative budget panel gave them permission to contract with private companies to provide those services. But, unions representing state correctional workers say the move is not only illegal, it's unfair to the thousands of public employees who will lose their jobs. A Leon County Circuit Judge heard arguments Monday and says he won't rule until he gets more information from all the parties involved.

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The Florida Department of Corrections recently received about $57 million dollars from the Legislative Budget Commission in September to contract with Corizon Correctional Healthcare and other private prison management companies to take over the state’s inmate health care services.

But, before a circuit judge Monday, attorney Tom Brooks argued it’s illegal. Brooks represents AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“If they have a statutory basis, and therefore can have the contract, the contract stipulates that the Legislature needs to appropriate it, not the Legislative Budget Commission.” Brooks said.

The unions maintain that for the department to contract with any private vendor, they must have approval of the full Legislature, not merely the panel of 14 lawmakers who make up the Legislative Budget Commission.

But, the DOC’s attorney Jonathan Sanford disagrees. He argued that the Legislative Budget panel was within its authority to transfer money that was initially intended for funding the public employees’ jobs and move it over to contracting with the private companies.

“That money was moved into contract dollars by the Legislative Budget Commission.” Sanford said. “That’s all the LBC did. It took money that would have otherwise have been used to pay for positions and converted it into contract dollars.”

All sides admitted they did not know much about the Legislative Budget Commission process, at times, calling it “arcane.”

After hearing their arguments, Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper says he needs more information about the panel before he can determine if what it did was legal.

“Is the LBC funding contracting for the northern region? Is that consistent with Legislative policy and intent?” The judge asked.  

“Is that what the LBC was doing? And, if so, can the LBC do that?”

Judge Cooper says he expects to get the information he needs from all parties involved by next Thursday and he scheduled further arguments for that morning.


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