Judge to Weigh Prison Health Privatization

By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida


Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

Eight months after a judge tossed out a controversial prison-privatization plan, attorneys will argue next week about the constitutionality of a state decision to contract with companies to provide inmate health care.

Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll will hold a hearing Tuesday focusing on budget fine print that lawmakers approved last year directing the Florida Department of Corrections to privatize prison health services.

Opponents, including the Florida Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filed lawsuits early this year challenging the move. Like in the prison-privatization case, they argue that lawmakers improperly used the budget fine print --- known as proviso language --- to require the health care changes.

In a pre-hearing document filed last month, the nurses association said privatization of health services is a "substantial policy decision" that must be approved in a regular law, not in the annual budget.

"The (Florida) Constitution prohibits using appropriations acts to enact or change substantive law,'' association attorneys wrote in the document.

But the state and two potential contractors dispute that lawmakers acted improperly and argue that the health-care issue is different from the prison-privatization plan that was found unconstitutional. They contend, in part, that the Department of Corrections already had the legal authority to contract for health services, regardless of the language added to the budget.

"Plaintiffs seek to prevent (the department) from entering into contracts for the provision of inmate health care by attacking the validity of proviso,'' the state said in a court document this month. "However, the (department) has authority to enter into such contracts independent of the proviso."

The department has already sought proposals from companies that would provide the services. Last month, Secretary Kenneth Tucker sent a letter to legislative leaders and the governor's office recommending that Corizon, Inc., receive a contract for prisons in North and Central Florida, while Wexford Health Sources would receive a contract in South Florida.

Privatization is a highly controversial issue in state government, as workers fear they will lose jobs or see shrinking pay and benefits if private companies begin providing services. Supporters, including some key Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Scott, say privatization can save tens of millions of dollars for the state.

Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford last September blocked a legislative plan to privatize 29 prison facilities across the southern half of the state, ruling that lawmakers violated the constitution by making the changes in the budget fine print. The state has appealed Fulford's decision, and a hearing is scheduled June 27 in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

In including prison-health privatization in the 2011-12 budget, lawmakers required that the change create at least 7 percent in cost savings compared to 2009-10 expenses. Wexford, which along with Corizon has formally intervened in the lawsuit, argued in a court document this month that the savings requirement justified the Legislature's use of proviso language in making the changes.

"Clearly, then, the impetus behind the proviso language was the achievement of cost savings,'' Wexford said in the document. "Saving tax dollars is properly connected with the subject of appropriations."

The opponents, however, raise a series of objections about using proviso language to help make what likely would be permanent changes in the prison health system.

Gadsden County 3rd Graders Soar in Math

For the second year in a row, 3rd grade students in Gadsden County are at the head of the class. These 8 year olds are again #1 in the Big Bend and have risen from 8th in the state in 2011 to 5th this year. These accomplishments are even more commendable when considering the fact that the Florida Department of Education increased required test scores this school year. The district’s math score proficiency rate was 70% exceeding the state average of 58%, and ranking the district’s passing rate as 5th highest in the State.

In Reading, the district’s proficiency rate was 46%. Gadsden Elementary Magnet School had the district’s highest passing rate in reading at 78%, followed by Stewart Street at 71% and Crossroad at 62%.

Superintendent James stated that he was proud of the efforts of 3rd grade teachers, parents, students and administrators. “I am particularly pleased with our 3rd graders eclipsing the state gains in math again. This progress is most notable in light of the fact that statewide students were administered a more rigorous test
with higher score requirements with FCAT 2.0. This is something our entire county can be proud of.”

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  • by Off Duty Location: Leon County on Jun 13, 2012 at 09:41 AM
    King Campbell will be all over this one. I see that there is now a big fancy office opening for the preservation of the king. I would lose my job for saying this at work, but on here I can speak the truth. Privatization of the healthcare would be almost as big a mistake as re-electing King Larry Campbell!
  • by Kevin Location: Tallahassee on Jun 12, 2012 at 05:12 AM
    It's clear that this is a push by supporters of King Larry! It would be so much bettr if people would do their job all of the time, not just the 3 months before an election. 30 years is 30 years too much. We need oversight. Privatization is a big mistake!
  • by Harold Location: Tallahassee on Jun 10, 2012 at 04:58 PM
    We are the 8th highest city in crime according to Forbes. Crime is going down in Florida, but up in Leon County, and now Leon County and the Sheriff's Office which is over corrections has added sex with inmates to our list of troubles. This is just sad. Instead of opening a new campaign office, our Sheriff needs to pay attention to the office we elected him to run.
  • by Charles Location: Leon County on Jun 5, 2012 at 04:58 AM
    Now the corrections officers are having sex with inmates. I am sure that the Sheriff's office would love for their facilities to be private. I am sure that the Sheriff is really exited about this one. Can we please have some real leadership?
  • by Ben Location: Leon County on May 30, 2012 at 06:51 PM
    Privatization, well we know that there will be lots of money going into the Sheriff's race on this one. Can we get some oversight and transparency in corrections in Leon County...?
  • by Bostwick Location: Tallahassee on May 27, 2012 at 06:39 AM
    I would like to see how many of these private companies are contributing to re-election campaigns like those of the Sheriff and the Governor...? We need some real transparency on these issues, if we want to see who stands to benefit!
  • by Jane Location: Tallahassee on May 27, 2012 at 02:26 AM
    I would love to hear what the current Sheriff has to say on the issue. It is election time so I am sure that he will come out and and have an opinion just in time for donors to support him.
  • by Honest Abe Location: Leon county on May 26, 2012 at 04:38 PM
    If you asked this Sheriff, he would consolidate everything and privatize everything. He would consolidate the Hospitals, Police Departments, Health Department, Daycares, and Major Media. We need leadership that wants whats best for the people. Not leadership that is just good for profits for friends.
  • by William Location: Tallahassee on May 26, 2012 at 02:18 PM
    Doesn't the Sheriff in Leon County run the jail. Why is he always so silent on issues concerning corrections. We need true leadership in the Sheriff's Office. He has come out and said the jail needs help with inmates suffering from mental health issues, but he will not come out in support of the "Mental Health Court." He only support being King through consolidation.
  • by Anonymous on May 25, 2012 at 11:58 AM
    How are Gadsden County 3rd Graders and the prison-privatization plan related?
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