Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Move to Privatize Prisons Advances

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Move to Privatize Prisons Advances

Article excerpt

SENATE: Amendment for more study fails in close vote; foes vow to fight onTALLAHASSEEThe largest effort in the nation to privatize public prisons won a key victory Monday when the Florida Senate narrowly defeated an amendment that would have required more study of the controversial plan.Senate leaders are closer to having enough votes to proceed to turn 29 correctional facilities over to private companies in an 18-county region of South Florida, including Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties.But opponents insist they still have enough votes to kill the measure if it comes for a final vote today.Monday's vote revived a privatization plan that passed the Legislature last year but was struck down by the courts because of the way the measure was inserted into the state budget.After more than two hours of debate, the 40-member Senate voted 21-19 to reject the study amendment from Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has been an outspoken critic of the proposal and was stripped of his committee chairmanship after he defied Senate leaders on the issue."Why are we so afraid of a study?" Fasano said, during an impassioned defense of his amendment. "Let's not put the taxpayers' dollars at risk. We are moving this thing forward too fast."But Senate leaders argued that Fasano's amendment would have "gutted" the prison privatization bill (SB 2038) by putting the move on hold while a legislative research group analyzed "the costs and benefits of privatizing and closing prisons in this state.""We've studied it and studied it," said Senate Budget Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, one of the key proponents of the bill. "It's going to be disputed any way that you go."Instead, Alexander said allowing one or two private companies to take over an entire region -- representing about a fifth of the state's 100,000 prison beds -- would give the state a chance to finally see whether private prisons can save the state money. …

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