A bill created to privatize 27 Florida prisons died on the state Senate floor today in a 21-19 vote.
The bill has drawn fire from both Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate. Corrections workers, labor groups, the NAACP, the tea party, civil rights groups and faith leaders all came out against the bill, warning that it would cut thousands of state jobs, reduce benefits and undermine public safety.
Proponents, however, said the bill would save the state at least $17 million dollars — which they argued is needed as the state faces yet another budget shortfall.
State Sens. Paula Dockery, Mike Fasano, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Maria Sachs, Nan Rich, Charlie Dean, Bill Montford, Gwen Margolis, and Dennis Jones were among the many members who spoke out against the proposal. State Sens. Don Gaetz, John Thrasher, Andy Gardiner, Ellyn Bogdanoff and J.D. Alexander spoke in favor of the bill.
Jones, R-Seminole, said the plan would “kick [state employees] under the bus.” In his speech he criticized several efforts to privatize state services, including a recent plan to privatize the lottery. Jones was one of the key votes in killing the bill today.
While it was expected that a vote on the bill would be 20-20, state Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, switched his vote on the floor at the last minute. Siplin had voted for the bill in committee earlier this session.
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the most vocal opponents of the bill, says he was a expecting a 20-20 vote.
“I didn’t think we would have 21,” he tells The Florida Independent. Fasano calls it a “great feeling” to defeat the bill “with a majority.” He says he is grateful that the issue is now “dead” for the rest of the session. Fasano’s opposition to prison privatization did cost him a committee chairmanship, however.
Fasano says recent news of a private prison company appealing to states for contracts in exchange for money was among the reasons he has been wary of prison privatization. Fasano has spoken publicly in the past against the special interest and campaign cash that was driving the bill forward.
During debate over the bill, Fasano pleaded with members and said, “Let’s not bail out private prison companies.”
“If it walks like a bailout, talks like a bailout, it is a bailout,” he said. Fasano even had those words on a printed sheet of paper sitting on his desk today as he spoke.