In a letter sent to Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos today, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, writes that the decision to only refer the Legislature’s two controversial prison privatization bills to one committee was the wrong move.

This week, lawmakers announced that two bills allowing the state to privatize prisons have been fast-tracked by leaders in the state’s GOP-led Legislature by only referring them to one committee — the rules committee — before a final vote.

The two bills, which were introduced yesterday, encountered resounding opposition from various groups. The AFL-CIO, a labor group, warned that the bills were a “union busting” effort that would “eliminate any transparency from the process, allowing Legislative leaders to auction off Florida with no deliberation, cost benefit analysis or public input.”

While one bill privatizes correctional facilities, the other would allow the privatization of state functions to go through more secretively. If passed, the bill would allow the privatization of a public agency function to move along without being evaluated for feasibility, cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

Fasano requested in his letter today that the bills get a full hearing from the appropriate committees.

According to the letter, Fasano warns that the two bills represent “potential changes to policy of such a magnitude that they should not have originated in a procedural committee such as the Rules Committee.”

Fasano writes:

In my opinion a subject as complex as prison privatization should have been referred to the substantive committees that oversee this subject matter (i.e. Criminal Justice, Governmental Oversight and Accountability and Criminal & Civil Justice Appropriations). The Senate has a rich history as a deliberative body that examines and allows for full vetting of proposed policy changes both major and minor. I respectfully request that if these bills are acted upon favorably by the Rules Committee on January 23, 2012 that you pull them back into your office and refer them to at least the three substantive and appropriations committees I have suggested.

Proponents of the bill have said they were  filed in response to a ruling made when a judge struck down the Legislature’s attempt to privatize prisons last year. The judge ruled last year that the process by which the legislators pushed through its plans to privatize prisons in 18 counties was unconstitutional and lacked statutory authority.

When the ruling was announced last year, Fasano released a statement saying that he applauded the judge “for her wise decision to declare the attempt at privatizing these prisons unconstitutional.”  Fasano said, “the Florida Legislature should not be making major policy decisions by inserting last minute proviso language into the budget, thus circumventing the committee process.”

“An issue as important as prison privatization should have been given the chance for thoughtful debate in the substantive committees that oversee this issue,” he said this past September.

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