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Florida appeals judge's decision to block prison privatization plan

TALLAHASSEE — At the request of the Legislature, the state will challenge a judge's order blocking privatization of 30 prisons in South Florida.

Shortly before the courts closed for the day Monday, Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a notice of appeal with the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

Bondi's spokeswoman said she did so at the request of the Republican-led Legislature, which was not a party to the original lawsuit but whose actions were sharply criticized in the original ruling.

The decision extends the state's effort to implement the most ambitious outsourcing of government-run prisons to date in the United States.

The Legislature created the privatization plan in 18 counties, from Manatee to Monroe, and did so not by passing a bill but by attaching the provision to the entire prison budget in what's known as proviso language.

A union representing correctional officers, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, filed suit to block the project, and won. The union said thousands of officers' jobs were threatened.

Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled Sept. 30 that the venture was in violation of state law and the Florida Constitution because it was not "rationally related" to the prison system's overall budget. A spending item that changes substantive law is invalid, the judge ruled.

Lawmakers had hoped to save $22 million this year by hiring a private vendor to run the prisons for 7 percent less than it costs the state to run them.

The PBA said Monday it would continue to emphasize what it called "the lack of significant savings" associated with prison privatization.

"We're ready to fight it at the next level," said Matt Puckett, executive director of the PBA. "We're very confident that it's not going to be overturned. I think there are a lot of tax dollars at stake here."

Bondi's action came as a bit of a surprise because the prison system and Gov. Rick Scott's office said earlier in the day that the ruling would not be appealed.

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

Florida appeals judge's decision to block prison privatization plan 10/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 31, 2011 9:38pm]
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