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State police radios funds spared from veto list

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Gov. Rick Scott declared his plan to lay waste to nearly 300 projects amounting to some $256 million with a preemptive announcement on Tuesday.

Among the roughly $82 billion in funding items left standing: a controversial appropriation of $7 million to refresh the state’s stock of radio equipment for state law enforcement agents.

The radio money making the cut is a big win for Brevard-based Harris Corporation, who argued the funds are needed to replace outdated models. A representative involved in pursuing the item described the windfall as a matter of time.  He said guidelines indicate law enforcement radios should be swapped out every seven years. The current 20-year procurement deal was awarded in 2000, meaning some units could be 15 years old or more.

Critics of the move – including representatives for Motorola Solutions, who hope to take over the contract after the current arrangement expires in 2021 – say the appropriation could unfairly bolster Harris’ grip on the contract.

The item was a priority for the House, particularly Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Rules Chair Ritch Workman, who requested the funding in the chamber’s budget. Both lawmakers represent Brevard County.

Senate appropriations chief Tom Lee told reporters after a budget conference he would have preferred not include the dollars in the budget, but accepted the deal as part of a compromise with House counterpart Speaker-to-be Richard Corcoran.

A representative from Motorola issued the following statement on the budget announcement:

“Motorola Solutions commends Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature for their support of a competitive procurement process for a cost-effective, next-generation mission-critical communications system for first responders throughout the state,” said Corporate Vice President Claudia Rodriguez, For the last two years, the governor and state legislators have wisely funded efforts to ensure that a fair and open procurement process takes place this year for a standards-based statewide communications system.”

“Florida is in a position to build a new state of the art, interoperable system that will enable public safety agencies and jurisdictions throughout the state to communicate seamlessly and effectively to coordinate a joint response – whether in a hurricane or other large-scale emergencies, as well as for everyday situations.

Several independent studies have been conducted at the request of the state that confirm that a competitive procurement process will open the door for multiple vendors to provide creative solutions to address the state’s communications needs with the best and most cost-effective solutions. We are pleased that the governor and legislators have also agreed that all vendors will have equal access to the state’s existing assets.”

Harris released a statement on the topic as well, saying, “Harris applauds Governor Scott for putting the safety of first responders and Floridians first. New state-of-the-art radios that work on the current and future SLERS systems will give law enforcement advanced interoperable communication technology now, and will allow officials to retire radio models that are more than a decade old. As hurricane season approaches and as Florida hosts more than 100 million visitors annually, it is critical that first responders have the right tools. We question why anyone would want our state law enforcement to be forced to use outdated equipment or wait another five years.”

Harris also points to the following finding from the state Joint Task Force charged with implementing the state’s police radio regimes.

“Unlike cell phones or computer systems, the law enforcement radio replacement cycle is typically longer; usually eight years for mobile and six years for portables as outlined in the State’s Law Enforcement Communications Plan guidelines. The current mobile radios used in our system have been identified for end of support and will become obsolete by December 2014. This technology must be replaced with newer mainstream equipment that is capable of operating on the federally supported P-25 platform. The cost of replacing all mobiles and portables with radios for our state agencies is estimated at $85M.”

 

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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