In a state Senate rules committee hearing today, groups showed up to voice their opposition to two bills that would make it easier for the state to privatize prisons — and other government agency functions.

Both committee bills, which moved forward today, received resounding opposition. The bills were introduced, but have yet to be referred to the appropriate committees.

A labor group has already called the bills “union busting” efforts and said they would “eliminate any transparency from the process, allowing Legislative leaders to auction off Florida with no deliberation, cost benefit analysis or public input.”

Senate Bill 7172 would privatize correctional facilities and Senate Bill 7170 would allow the privatization of state functions to go through more secretively.

According to its summary, Senate Bill 7170 would provide “that certain information relating to the outsourcing or privatization of an agency function that is expressly required by law is not required to be included in the agency’s legislative budget request until after the contract for such functions is executed; providing that procurements for outsourcing or privatizing agency functions that are expressly required by law are exempt from the requirement that they be evaluated for feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency, etc.”

State Sen. J.D. Alexander said the bills were addressing a ruling made when a judge struck down the Legislature’s attempt to privatize prisons last year.

In September 2011, Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled that the process by which the Florida Legislature pushed through its plans in 18 counties was unconstitutional. Fulford wrote that the Department of Corrections “proceeded without statutory authority and contrary to statutory authority” by implementing the plan.

Today, the rules committee introduced bills that would set statutory authority to move forward with last session’s plans.

State Sens. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, and Chris Smith, D-West Palm Beach, both objected to the committee bills, which were voted forward today.

Margolis said the exemptions included in the bills for contractors represented “a disturbing scenario.” Smith said the bills would “codify the ability to privatize” state functions and “goes further” than any other previous privatization effort.

There were 10 speakers scheduled to testify at the committee meeting. One of them was a representative from the Police Benevolent Association, the union representing corrections officers and prison guards that successfully filed the lawsuit against the state’s plans last year. The group’s representative took issue with the committee’s attempt to change the rules for private prisons. He said, “We need to keep this process in place.”

The representative for a group representing retired officers said prison privatization would “open the door to corruption” and would “jeopardize public safety.”

Judith Green, an independent policy researcher, told committee members that their plans “raises more than one issue of concern” — among them, she explained, were costs, employment practices and public safety.

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