Split Senate defeats killer privatization amendment
A tense, divided state Senate voted 21-19 on Monday to keep a controversial prison privatization plan alive.
The vote was on a so-called killer amendment by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, that would have substituted a study of privatization for the actual outsourcing of 27 prisons and work camps in 18 South Florida counties. Fasano's amendment would have gutted the bill (SB 2038).
The vote followed more than two hours of questions and debate. Backers emphasized the cost savings, at a minimum of $16.5 million the first year, which they said would boost education and health spending. Opponents argued that cost savings are unreliable and that public safety is too basic a government service to be outsourced to profit-making companies.
Eight Republicans joined 11 Democrats in supporting Fasano's amendment. Here was the key vote, as one anti-privatization senator voted against the study: Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole. He remained silent throughout the debate, but vocally cast a no vote on it in a key committee vote two weeks ago. Jones is the dean of the Senate and one of its most well-respected members. If Jones remains opposed to privatization on the overall bill, and no one else changes their position, privatization will be defeated on a 20-20 tie.
A privatization supporter, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, noted that the bill would require private prisons to be run at a 7 percent cost savings compared to state prisons. "If they don't perform, we don't pay them. It doesn't get any better than that."
At one point, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, an outspoken opponent of prison privatization, faced Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, a leading supporter, and said: "I've asked you for a document showing the savings and you haven't presented it to me."
"What would a study do that the experience from these particular privatizations wouldn't do?" asked Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, as he rattled off a study by the Legislature's research arm showing savings at seven Florida prisons that have been privatized since the mid-1990s.