Unions sue to block plans to privatize inmate health-care services in state prisons

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A pair of unions went to court late Friday in an effort to block plans to privatize inmate health-care services in state prisons, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Federation of Physicians and Dentists/Alliance of Healthcare and Professional Employees filed suit in the 1st District Court of Appeal against Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker, saying he doesn’t have authority on his own to allow private companies to handle health-care services.

The action comes two days after the Legislative Budget Commission passed an amendment to the state spending plan that shifts money around to allow DOC to continue its privatization push. Opponents say the full Legislature would have to approve the decision to contract out the services.

“Nothing in the LBC’s amendment purports to, or lawfully could, create a specific appropriation contrary to the intent of the Legislature itself as expressed in the 2012 [budget],” the filing says.

It also takes aim at the argument by corrections officials that they are authorized to contract with the two companies — Corizon, Inc., and Wexford Health Sources, Inc., — because of a provision of state law allowing the department to farm some jobs out to “counties, municipalities, nonprofit corporations, and other entities capable of providing needed services.”

Lawyers for the union argued that the use of “nonprofit corporations” by the Legislature shows lawmakers were specifically looking to exclude for-profit corporations, with “other entities” referring to other nonprofit or government organizations that might be able to provide services.

“All specifically listed entities in the statute — counties, municipalities and nonprofit corporations — operate outside the sphere of the profit motive and are therefore fundamentally different than for-profit corporations like Wexford and Corizon,” the suit says.

Supporters of the privatization, mainly Republicans, have instead argued that the law is referring to private companies with “other entities.”

“We’re not enacting a policy,” Senate Budget Chairman JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said Wednesday. “The executive branch is operating within its established legal authority.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.