A move to stop a prison privatization plan from moving forward failed to pass out of the Senate Tuesday. As Sascha Cordner, this comes ahead of Tuesday’s vote on the massive effort where both opponents and proponents have been making a last ditch effort to plead their case.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, both sides have been roaming the Florida Capitol trying to garner support for either side. Among them are the correctional officers who will be the most affected by privatizing the 27 correctional facilities in South Florida.
“We’re going to our supporters and thanking them for support that they’ve given us. We’re also going to ones that don’t support us, a few of the Senators who are against us are at least cordial and will take meetings with us, and anything that can get us out of the office.”
Brett Pruitt is one of 50 correctional officers, who went door-to-door to lawmakers in the Senate.
Dale Landry, a member of the NAACP, also has been talking to Senators about his opposition to the proposal. He says recent moves by proponents show that it’s prison management companies like GEO group and Corrections Corporation of America, that are really pulling the strings:
“We have seen the first result with the removal of Senator Fasano for calling for an independent study We have seen Senator Haridopolos stall Senate action on a bill for fear of it being defeated. One can only presume to give time for the masters to entice those on the precipice to giving in to money at the sake of Floridians.”
But Brad Swanson with the Florida Chamber of Commerce says that’s not true.
“The private sector has had an established record of being able to do the exact same job at a lower cost for the citizens of Florida. Frankly as the budget is as tight as it is. Savings In the neighborhood of 20 million dollars can fund other much needed resources in the state like 300 teachers. So I think the private sector has shown that as an example of how to run a more streamlined and efficient government and the Florida Chamber supports that.”
However, on the Senate Floor, there was a lot of debate about the cost savings, like what it actually is and what it will do. That’s what Senator Mike Fasano hoped to address with an amendment:
“My amendment simply requires that an analysis be done by a very expert group of people that would come back with some of the many questions or answers to the questions that Senator Bullard asked, Senator Dockery asked, Senator Latvala, I mean others in fact. There has not been a clear answer as to what’s the bottom line as far as how is this going to impact communities, how it’s going to affect tax payers.”
But, the debate got heated as Senator Thrasher argued that if Fasano’s amendment passed, that would mean there would be three options available to them.
“It seems to me that we can either do one or two things, or maybe three things. We could let the Governor do it; I like the Governor he’s a good friend. But if we’re going to do it I’d rather see this legislature do it. Or we can just say no and let’s don’t do it and let the courts over there, a single circuit judge make this decision for us. That’s wrong.”
Republican Senator Paula Dockery pointed to research that showed the state can run things cheaper than private prisons, based on figures from the Florida Department of Correction. She says she doesn’t understand why Senate Leadership would not want to get their own analysis done.
“When I brought up earlier the fact that the seven prisons we have we paid more than what was in that contract and they’re not saving more money than what some of our own state run prisons are able to do the service for. All you have to go on is our past history and our past history is not a compelling case to go forward with privatizing half the prisons in the state of Florida.”
Senator Mike Bennett, speaking for the opposition, pleaded to lawmakers not to approve an independent study:
“You know and I know that the fastest way to lose control of something up here is to get a study commissioned to take a look at it. We will get the seven percent. And, we will all be proud of it. Let’s save the money that we can right now. Let’s save it today. Let’s protect our seniors. Let’s protect our health reg. Let’s protect the people who need it the most. Let’s be guaranteed the 7-percent savings where this whole conversation is moot. The study will not guarantee that. But signing this agreement and voting this bill out of here will today.”
Senator Fasano’s amendment failed to pass on a close vote of 19 to 21. An up or down vote on the Senate Bill 2038 as a whole is expected to be taken on Tuesday.