Judge Wants More Info Before Deciding Over Privatization Of Inmate Health Services Dispute

Nov 19, 2012

The Florida Department of Corrections is still engaged in a legal dispute over whether it can privatize the state’s inmate health care services, after a Legislative budget panel gave them permission. But, the unions, who filed the challenge, say it’s not only illegal, it’s unfair to the thousands of public employees who will lose their jobs. A Leon County Circuit Judge heard arguments Monday, and says he won’t rule until he gets more information from all the parties involved.

The Florida Department of Corrections recently received about 57-million dollars from the Legislative Budget Commission in September to contract with private prison management companies, like Corizon Correctional Healthcare, to take over the state’s inmate health care services.

But, before a circuit judge Monday, lawyer for one of the unions Tom Brooks argued it’s illegal. He represents AFSCME, or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“If they [the department] has a statutory basis, and therefore can have the contract, the contract stipulates that the Legislature needs to appropriate it, not the Legislative Budget Commission,” said Brooks.

Brooks says for the department to contract with any of the private vendors, they must have approval of the full Florida Legislature, not a panel of 14 lawmakers, who make up the Legislative Budget Commission.

But, Jonathan Sanford disagrees. He argued on behalf of the department, saying the Legislative Budget panel was within its authority to transfer money that was initially for funding the public employees’ jobs and move it over to contracting with the private companies.

“That money was moved into contract dollars by the LBC [Legislative Budget Commission]. That’s all the LBC did. It took money that would have otherwise have been used to pay for positions and converted into contract dollars,” said Sanford.

All sides admitted they did not know too much about the Legislative Budget Commission process, at times, calling it “arcane.” And, after hearing their arguments, Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper says, he needs more information about the panel, before he can determine if what it did was legal.

“Is the LBC funding contracting for the northern region? Is that consistent with Legislative policy and intent? And, is that initiating or commencing a new program or eliminating existing program," asked Cooper. "Is that what the LBC was doing? And, if so, can the LBC do that?”

Judge Cooper says he expects to get the information he needs from all parties involved by next Thursday. He also scheduled further arguments for that morning.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.