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State law enforcement radio money spared Gov. Scott’s veto ax

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Gov. Rick Scott vetoed more than $461 million in state spending this morning, or about six percent of all appropriations in the 2015-2016 budget.

It was his second largest spilling of red ink over line items since acting on his first General Appropriations Act in office — when he nixed some $615 million in 2011’s $70 billion budget.

Not on the chopping block: $7 million to replace state law enforcement radios that have “reached their end-of-life or end of support date,” to be replaced with new radios that meet new technological standards.

The item was reportedly placed in the budget by Speaker Steve Crisafulli after being “bumped” up to budget chairs state Rep. Richard Corcoran and state Sen. Tom Lee.

Lee has said that presiding officers were closely engaged in the last-minute budget talks that gave rise to an 11 p.m. unveiling last week.

State Sen. Jack Latvala had expressed concern that the move — not requested by law enforcement personnel but instead by Harris Corp., the state’s current radio vendor — could amount to a “back-door extension” of its contract, which earned Harris a contract payment of $18,220,000 in this year’s budget.

The budget, however, also contains language that indicates the state will go forward with an ongoing plan to hold a competitive bidding process to procure radios when the current contract expires in 2021.

Also, $810,304 is provided for the Department of Management Services for “necessary staff augmentation support and subject matter experts to assist the department in developing a proposed competitive solicitation document and providing other services as determined necessary by the department for procuring a land mobile radio support system that includes a Project 25 Phase II delivery methodology.”

That means that while Harris has won an important battle in remaining near the center of the state’s orbit when it comes to law enforcement radio, it will likely still face the heavy lift of a competitive RFP as 2021 draws nearer.

Project 25, as we’ve written about before, is a suite of enhanced standards that would allow all state radios to operate compatibly with each other.

Glenn Grab, Harris’ state and local government relations director, previously defended the $7 million allocation as simply the quickest means to get the state’s radio systems up to snuff.

“The state should not wait until 2021 to bring improvements to public safety,” he said, referring to the current end date of the contract.

“Harris’ [budget] offer delivers the benefit of advanced P25 technology today to SLERS users and leverages the existing network to save the state several hundred million dollars. Harris’ offer uses the existing contract which will not foreclose future options or impact a competitive procurement.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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