Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island (Pic by Office of Senate President, via flsenate.gov)

A divided state Senate yesterday began the process of casting a final vote on a bill that would privatize prisons in some regions of the state, before cutting the vote short. The Senate will continue the process today.

The state is in the middle of taking another stab at privatizing prisons after a judge struck down the state’s plans last year. Since the bills were introduced, corrections officers, labor groups and public policy experts have expressed opposition to the state’s plans. They warned legislators that prison privatization would threaten public safety and put corrections employees out of work. Many who testified warned that private prison companies use inferior training and policies for their employees, and cut corners to save money.

The bill moved very quickly through the committee process and very little public testimony has been heard. Opponents have accused Senate leaders of deliberately “fast-tracking” the bill in order to avoid public scrutiny.

Amendments were introduced by state Sens. Ronda Storms, J.D. Alexander and Gary Siplin yesterday. Siplin, D-Orlando, introduced an amendment requiring that “twenty percent of the cost savings” that are required to be produced by the privatization measures be “directed to the Department of Juvenile Justice for the purpose of funding the CINS/FINS.”

Even though a handful legislators voiced concern that this would tie the Legislature’s hands every year, the amendment passed.

Once state Sen. Mike Fasano’s amendments came up, though, everything was postponed until this afternoon.

Fasano’s proposal would strike out the entire bill and require that the “Office of Economic and Demographic Research within the Legislature … conduct a thorough and complete financial impact analysis of the costs and benefits of privatizing and closing prisons in this state.”

Throughout the speedy movement of this bill, Fasano has remained one of the most vocal critics of both the state’s plans as well as the way in which Senate leaders are rushing the bill. He has long said that not enough is known about the fiscal impact of the Legislature’s plans.

Yesterday, Fasano’s concerns were echoed by Sens. Jack Latvala, Bill Montford, Paula Dockery and others.

Fasano said during a press conference with labor groups that he would continue to fight the bill and asked his colleagues to support his amendment. Five amendments filed by Fasano are set to be taken up today.

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