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Union Lawsuit Over Private Prisons in Judge's Hands

September 28, 2011 - 6:00pm

A Leon County judge is mulling a union request to block efforts to privatize prisons in 18 South Florida counties, as the Florida Police Benevolent Association says lawmakers violated the state Constitution in crafting the plan.

Meanwhile, Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon called the legislation justified.

We have an obligation to do what is best for Floridians on the policy side, Cannon said, addressing the media from the floor of the House chamber Thursday afternoon. I dont think business plans are part of what we did in that public policy.

Judge Jackie Fulford said she hoped to rule late Thursday or Friday if the unions lawsuit could proceed to a trial.

Any trial date or union appeal would depend upon Fulfords ruling.

Fulford heard more than three hours of testimony Thursday morning in the Leon County Courthouse on the unions lawsuit that contends lawmakers earlier this year included provisions in the budget package to privatize the jails rather than make the proposal a separate bill.

Union attorneys claim legislators violated the state Constitution by including financial figures for a private service in the provision.

They didnt do it correctly, said Kelly Overstreet Johnson, an attorney for the union. They could have passed a law, changed the existing law and funded it, but they didnt do that. What they did do violates the Constitution; even the Legislature has to follow the law.

Jon Glogau, representing the state, said in court Thursday that legislators had every right to explore the privatization process because the state Constitution requires the lawmaking body to create laws and set the budget.

He added that the lawmakers are not bound to fund items that have been previously submitted only through budget requests, as the union contends.

We also know the Legislature funds lots of things that are not in the (legislative budget requests); in some instances, we call them turkeys, Glogau said. You can argue that is not a good idea, not a good way to make a budget, but there is nothing unconstitutional about it. No turkey has ever been declared unconstitutional because of a legislative shortcoming.

Glogau added that the union lawsuit jumps the gun by claiming the state has predetermined the savings and costs of the ongoing Department of Corrections bid process from companies seeking to run the jails.

The Legislature just established a target and they will then decide, through the Legislative Budget Commission, whether the savings are substantial enough to warrant moving forward with the contracts, Glogau said. Its not written in stone.

The provision requires the savings to be 7 percent or more to warrant a shift of prison control from public to private management.

Union attorneys claim the budget provision essentially removed the Department of Corrections discretion to decide on privatizing prisons.

Attorney Stephen Turner, representing the union, said lawmakers failed to justify the privatization effort or provide proof that the outsourcing would save money while maintaining the necessary level of service and public safety.

The Legislature is not exempt from following the law, Turner said.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (850) 727-0859.

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