Senators split over handling of prison privatization
The Florida Senate is a house divided, and it's because of the controversial issue of prison privatization.
Two bills that would outsource 32 prisons and work camps in South Florida will be debated on Monday in an odd place: the Senate Rules Committee, which usually handles minor bills and procedural duties such as setting the floor calendar. Senate President Mike Haridopolos made that call, and two Republican committee chairmen are angry about it.
Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Greg Evers accused Haridopolos of "trying to circumvent" the normal process. "Why are you not as open with this issue as you were with everything else?" Evers asked. An even louder critic is Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, who heads the budget panel overseeing prisons. He accused Haridopolos of an "end run" and trampling on Senate traditions. "It's sad," said Fasano, a fierce opponent of privatization. "The Senate used to be a place where you could always rely on them following procedures."
Haridopolos defended himself Friday and added a second committee of reference -- the Budget Committee, headed by privatization's No. 1 advocate in the Capitol, Sen. JD Alexander of Lake Wales. The sequence of events makes it more likely that if it gets to the Senate floor as expected, the floor fight will be as much over procedure as privatization itself. Haridopolos said sending the bills (SB 2036 and 2038) to the budget panel "will ensure a thoughtful debate ... and I am hopeful that this will alleviate any concerns my fellow senators may have."