UPDATE: Judge Sides With Unions, Blocks Prison Health Care Privatization
Updated 5:28 p.m.
The Florida Department of Corrections has announced it is appealing the Judge's ruling. Below is a statement from the department's Deputy Secretary Mike Crews:
"The Department disagrees with, and intends to appeal, the ruling issued by the Second Judicial Circuit Court. This ruling creates an anticipated budget shortfall of up to $90 million over the next 18 months. This will jeopardize other Department needs and legislative budget priorities which could include additional reductions in staffing and program services across the Department. While we work to resolve this issue the Department will continue to provide constitutionally required healthcare services to inmates."
Updated 4:30 p.m.
Unions are declaring victory, after a Leon County Circuit Judge blocked the state from privatizing health care services in most of Florida’s prison system. But, the Judge is allowing the effort to move forward in one area of the state.
In his decision Tuesday, Judge John Cooper says the full Legislature tried to delegate its authority to a small group of lawmakers to privatize the north and central Florida regions of state prison health care services. He ruled that illegal, but he upheld the South Florida effort, which Alma Gonzalez, lawyer for AFSCME, or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says is understandable.
“The Judge said the Legislature very specifically said in the Appropriations Act that they wanted to give money to that particular privateer, but that was something that was aired out in the Sunshine, that went through the entire budgetary process, put forth to the entire Legislature,” said Gonzalez.
Others called the victory a "partial" one, but unions expect the state to appeal Judge Cooper's ruling.
The Florida Department of Corrections is in the middle of negotiating a contract with Wexford, the private company slated to take over the South Florida effort.
The department could not be reached for comment.
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1 p.m. Update by WFSUNEWS
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper has ruled the state's effort to privatize most of Florida's prison health services was improperly approved by the Legislative Budget Commission.
Thousands of employees were in jeopardy of losing their jobs, but they could have also been hired on by the private contractor.
Lawyers for the state claimed the Legislative Budget Commission has the legal right to give money to the Florida Department of Corrections to contract with companies to privatize health care services in state prisons.
But, lawyers for the unions who represent public employees say a small panel of lawmakers had no authority to make a budgetary decision like that and that it should have been left to the full legislature.
The matter has been in the courts before. In July, Leon Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll declared the subject moot because the budget provision the department had used to privatize under had already expired.
Cooper's ruling can be appealed.
Check back later on for more on this story.