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Florida Judge Affirms Dismissal of Unions' Prison Privatization Suit

August 27, 2012 - 6:00pm

Judge Kevin Carroll of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida on Monday dismissed a motion by the Florida Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to rehear their suit on plans by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to privatize prison health services.

The original suit had been dismissed by Carroll on July 2, when he found the matter moot after a provision in an appropriations bill authorizing the privatization expired on June 30.

The unions contended that the provision was a violation of the state constitutions single-subject rule, according to which a single bill can cover only one issue or subject. The principle, codified in Article III, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution, is intended to make state laws easier for voters and legislators to understand and to prevent legislative log-rolling -- meaning, getting unpopular legislation passed through the Legislature by piggy-backing it onto more popular measures.

Although the contested budgetary provision expired nearly two months ago, the DOC insists it has an alternative legal basis for proceeding with the privatizations: Section 20.315(12) of the Florida Statutes, which allows the DOC to contract for the provision of services by counties, municipalities, nonprofit corporations, and other entities capable of providing needed services, if services so provided are more cost-efficient, cost-effective, or timely than those provided by the department or available to it under existing law. DOC maintains that the words other entities allow it contract even with for-profit corporations.

The unions argued that their suit was no longer moot, in light of the DOCs subsequent submission of the new health privatization proposals to the states Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

The motion was dismissed Monday without prejudice, with means Carroll did not rule on the merits of the original lawsuit; he simply reaffirmed the suit's previous dismissal, leaving the door open for the plaintiffs to file a new one.

Attorney Tom Brooks, one of the lawyers representing AFSCME, told Sunshine State News his team is very disappointed in the ruling, and is considering its options going forward.

Neither the Florida Department of Corrections nor the Florida Attorney General's Office returned comment before this story was posted.

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