State workers weigh outcome of 2012 session

Mar 19, 2012

How did State workers fare this session? From the voting down of the prison privatization bill to the passage of a drug-testing bill, the general consensus seems to be better than last session, but not by much. Sascha Cordner has more.

“All state workers, in my opinion, fear whenever the Legislature comes in town.”

Paul Brewer is a 57-year-old state employee who works in a print shop and has done work for several state agencies, including the Governor’s Office. He says it seems like every Legislative Session, lawmakers come to town to gut state workers where it hurts: their jobs.

The Legislature this session eliminated about 4,400 positions, but it’s unknown until June 30th how many layoffs that would mean.

Brewer says he’s still disappointed, even though he sees the situation as a slight improvement over last year:

“All in All we’re happy that we escaped unscathed. Because they had their minds on other things that basically left state workers alone this year, except for the drug testing, which none of us think is useful, appropriate, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

However, the Senate sponsor of the drug-testing bill, Senator Alan Hays of Umatilla says it’s a state employee-friendly bill that will benefit state workers:

“If this drug test reveals a positive result, and then it’s confirmed with a second mandatory test, then that could be the impetuous to get that person into a treatment program and get them the help they need to get out of that addictive behavior. This bill, while it’s been characterized by some as a way to fire employees, and various other accusations, this bill is very friendly towards employees.”

While nota fan of the drug-testing bill, there was an issue that Brewer was happy about:

"We were very thankful where the judge ruled on the three-percent , which on a personal level, cost me and my wife almost close to $2,000 this year, and we’d like to get it back if we can.”

But, not everyone was happy with the ruling, like Republican Representative Ritch Workman, who sponsored the pension legislation last year:

“I don’t think she has any constitutional muster whatsoever. I will be willing to bet that it will be overturned in the First DCA. She’s ruled this way before. She’s had a history of ruling against this Legislature because she is an activist judge.”

The Governor as well as the some of the top Senate Leadership, have also characterized Judge Jackie Fulford as an “activist judge” not only for the pension ruling, but for the ruling the way the Legislature put a provision in the budget to privatize prison last year is unconstitutional as well.

While the ruling is under appeal, the Legislature still tried to privatize prisons through a bill this year, but it ended up failing on the Senate Floor, to the happiness of Florida Police Benevolent Association Executive Director Matt Puckett.

“And, the way we look at it, obviously great  for the officers in South Florida. They have some stability in their lives. They’re not going to be forced to make these major decisions: do I stay in South Florida and work for a private company? Do I get out of Corrections? Do I uproot my family and move?”

Another win for correctional officers included allowing Jefferson Correctional Institution to stay open, a priority of Democratic Representative Alan Williams:

“In a community that small, it would have had an impact in a very negative way on the economic development of that county. Many businesses support that facility. And, so I’m glad we were able to reverse that. The citizens of that county fought hard. We fought hard. And, I think the Governor listened.”

Other areas that benefitted state workers included an effort championed by Democratic Senate Leader Nan Rich to allow state employees to get their children insured under the KidCare program.

However, despite some strides made this year, many state worker advocates, like Paul Brewer,  fear that come next year, the Legislature is likely to turn their attention back to state workers and cut them again.

 

Update:  The first District Court of Appeal has ruled the pension case  should go directly to the state Supreme Court.  Supporters of the employee contribution, including the Governor’s office, had no immediate comment on the decision.