Budget Negotiators Strike Deals on Privatization, PIP, WMD

By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 1, 2011.......

Multiple bids could be solicited on the state’s plan to privatize South Florida prisons, some attorney’s fees would be curtailed in personal-injury cases and water management districts would take a reduction under a set of deals cut Sunday evening by a House-Senate budget negotiating committee.

Under the prison privatization measure, the Department of Corrections could bid out the contract for the private takeover of prisons across the southern third of the state as a group or as a set of smaller contracts. The Legislative Budget commission would give final approval to the plan.
“We want to make sure it’s well done,” said Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lakes Wales, and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, also struck a deal to include in the measure one of several personal-injury protection reform measures that recently died in a House committee.

The language, folded into a conforming bill for the civil and criminal justice budget, would bar the use of contingency risk multipliers in personal-injury cases. Those multipliers can essentially drive up the attorney’s fees awarded to an attorney who wins a PIP case at the discretion of the judge handling the suit.

After the meeting, Alexander defended putting the deal into a conforming bill. It marks the second time in recent days that lawmakers have dealt with a tricky substantive issue by including it in the budget agreement, after a House-Senate conference committee tacked a growth-management reform bill onto a measure dealing with government reorganization.

“We’re trying to get at some of the abuses,” Alexander said of the PIP measure.

Sam Miller, executive vice president of the Florida Insurance Council, said the measure would help contain costs and comes in the wake of key defeats in a House committee that had left PIP reform looking dead.

“Supporters of at least some of these provisions have been looking for some way to salvage some of this stuff,” he said.

Alexander and Grimsley also approved a deal that would slice the budget -- and resulting property taxes -- for the state’s five water management districts by $210.5 million. That represented something of a rare victory on tax rates for Gov. Rick Scott, who proposed a $177.8 million cut in his budget plan.

Alexander and Grimsley were set to meet again Sunday evening to consider funding for education construction projects.

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