Sunday, February 5, 2012

Local: Florida Republican Stripped Of Senate Chairmanship For Opposing Prison Privatization Scheme

Florida state Sen. Mike Fasano (R)
Florida Republican Stripped Of Senate Chairmanship For Opposing Prison Privatization Scheme by Marie Diamond

The biggest critic of a massive prison privatization scheme in Florida was stripped of his chairmanship of the Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriation for opposing Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) plan to outsource prison oversight to the lowest bidder.

Sen. Mike Fasano (R) is one of ten Senate Republicans who opposes the plan to give private, for-profit vendors control over 26 prisons, but his vocal criticism provoked retribution from one of the bill’s biggest supporters, Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R):
Amid the mounting tension, Senate President Mike Haridopolos refused to bring up the bill for debate, a sign that it faced defeat. Ten of 28 Senate Republicans have voiced strong reservations or opposition to such a major policy shift, a serious rift in the GOP caucus.

The drama intensified as Haridopolos stripped Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, of his chairmanship of a budget subcommittee overseeing prisons, saying Fasano “was not rowing in the same direction” as Senate leaders on budget decisions.

“It’s become clear to me that Sen. Fasano was not willing to make these choices,” Haridopolos said.

Fasano said Haridopolos told him he was being punished for his anti-privatization comments in an MSNBC interview Monday.
This week Fasano introduced an amendment that would effectively stop the plan and require further study on its fiscal impact. Critics of the plan say that it will save little if any money and cost thousands of state workers their jobs. The price of paying the displaced prison workers for unused sick leave and vacation could well offset the estimated $16 – $30 million in savings. “It’s really just a gift to the private-prison industry,” David Murrell of the Police Benevolent Association said of the plan.

Yet Haridopolos claimed he outed Fasano because he had “lost confidence in him to fulfill [the] mission” of balancing the budget and not raising taxes because Fasano raised concerns about the real cost of prison privatization.

Last year a judge threw out a similar plan because proponents tried to sneak it into the budget, but Republican sponsors have revived the bill. And they have a clear personal interest in fighting so hard. The country’s biggest private prison companies, who stand to make millions from the Florida plan, have given generously to many state legislators.

GEO Group, a private prison company based in Boca Raton and one of the largest contributors to the Florida Republican Party in 2010, gave over $11,000 to the campaigns of 14 of the 20 members of the Budget Committee that approved the privatization bill. They also gave the maximum $25,000 to Gov. Scott’s inaugural fund.

The Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest corrections company, also has close connections to GOP statehouses across the country. The company has spent $373,000 in political contributions in Florida since 2003, over 60 percent of which have gone to Republicans.

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