New Florida prison privatization effort challenged
Published: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 4:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 4:32 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for two public employee unions urged a judge Wednesday to block the state's attempt to privatize health care in Florida's prisons, saying a provision in the state budget that authorized the outsourcing has expired.
Gov. Rick Scott's administration contends the Department of Corrections doesn't need the budget provision to sign contracts with private companies for health services currently provided by nearly 3,000 state employees.
Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll asked lawyers to submit additional written arguments and legal citations, if any, by the end of next week before he makes a ruling.
Carroll last month declined to rule on a challenge to the budget provisions because they had expired on June 30.
The unions want him to reopen that case.
"It is clear that this issue of privatization can and will be litigated," Carroll said. "The question is: Is it in this lawsuit or a new lawsuit down the road?"
Lawyers for the Florida Nurses Association and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents nonprofessional health workers, argued there's no need for a new lawsuit. They want Carroll to rule the state cannot award contracts sought under the expired budget provisions nor does it have authority to do so under any other law.
"The plaintiffs here should not have to start this whole thing over simply because the state has sort of changed courses in midstream," said AFSCME lawyer Tom Brooks.
David Miller, who is representing the nurses, said the state at least should be required to start the bidding from scratch. If so, that process could then be challenged in another lawsuit.
"They're not suffering any hardship whereas our clients would suffer extreme hardship," Miller said.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Glogau argued the case was over, and said other laws also let the prison system outsource services. One of those laws, though, requires that private contracts save the state at least 7 percent over the cost of providing services with state employees.
"If your honor is inclined, however, to breathe life into this corpse if you will then I would suggest we need to have the complaint amended," Glogau said.
He argued that the plaintiffs never raised the issue of whether the state could outsource without the budget provisions. The union lawyers, though, said they did so and noted Glogau himself brought it up during previous arguments.
The department plans to sign a contract with Pittsburgh-based Wexford Health Sources in the southern part of the state and Corizon Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., for other regions.
Carroll said there may be a time when the bidders can get involved in the litigation, but not now.