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Fallout over Fasano, prison privatization continues

Does a bill to privatize about 30 South Florida prisons have enough traction in the Florida Senate? As Sascha Cordner reports, several senators weighed in on the future of the legislation.

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is among the opponents of the prison privatization bill that was expected to be taken up on the Senate Floor Wednesday.

“My understanding is the votes are not there and that’s why the bill is not upon the floor.”

For a prison privatization bill to pass, it’s going to require a majority vote of the 40-member body. But, Senate Bill 2038 may not have all the votes it needs.

“That’s not even an opinion, that’s a fact!”

Republican Senator Paula Dockery says she knows the bill would have been gutted had it been taken up for a vote. And, she says she’s also sure one of the amendments filed by Republican Senator Mike Fasano to derail the bill would have passed. That amendment would have delayed prison privatization for a year, until a study was done to prove the cost savings.

“Every day they keep trying to change opinions, and I don’t think anybody else is going to change at this point. The bill would die, and the amendment would pass. That’s the way it was Tuesday, that’s the way it was Wednesday, that’s the way it is today. I think the removing of Senator Fasano might be message to other Republicans that they could lose their chairmanships, and that’s an unfortunate way to lead a chamber.”

Senate President Mike Haridpolos removed Fasano from two Senate budget committees Wednesday, including one Fasano chairs. Haridopolos says Fasano lost the chairmanship due to his inability to make tough budget decisions, not his beliefs on prison privatization.

Fasano, though, has said he is hopeful Republicans, who chair a committee, won’t lose their chairmanship, if they’re opponents of prison privatization, like him.

Republican Senator Greg Evers, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, says he’s not concerned, even though he, like Fasano, is a no-vote. He says to get the necessary yes-votes, all the Senate Leadership has to do is to start from scratch, make the bill go through the proper committees, and prove to everyone that there is, in fact, a set-cost savings:

“And, not starting with 50, coming to 40-to 22-to 20-to-18 million dollars, I mean lay it out there. If there is a savings, I feel reasonably sure the bill would move, but until that determination is made, until the full extent of the process is utilized, I don’t feel like we can do anything as far as allowing that bill to move forward.”

Governor Rick Scott has been trying to drum up support by meeting with Republican Senators to switch their vote. Scott also met with Senator Charlie Dean, but the Inverness lawmaker says he wouldn’t budge:

“We did have a discussion and he is very committed to trying to balance the budget of this state. I support him. This particular instance, it’s just one that I disagree. When it comes to the day to day operation for jailing people for profit, I don’t support that.”

Senator Mike Fasano says he will continue to lobby against the bill, and he knows the opposite will be true with Hariodopolos:

“I’m sure he’s going to do everything he can between now and then, now and next week, or now and before session ends, which is about three and half weeks to go, will do everything he can to get the votes, and once he’s confident he has the votes, he will bring the bill up.” 

But, Haridopolos says he’s expecting to take the bill up again next week. And, he disagrees that by delaying the vote he will get the votes:

“I think the vote is extremely close and Senator Bullard is not here, and we’re paying a lot of respect to everyone. And, so hopefully, she’ll be back, and I don’t anticipate her voting yes, so odds are, it’s not by delaying this, I’m not picking up votes.”

So far, the clear “yes” votes include Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senate President designate Don Gaetz, Senate Budget Chief JD Alexander, Senator John Thrasher, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, and Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, who’s taking over Fasano’s chair seat. Haridopolos says if the Senate votes down the bill, then they’ll have to cut 16 to 30 million dollars elsewhere in the budget, like education or health care.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.