Police union sues Gov. Rick Scott over private prison plan

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJuly 20, 2011 

— TALLAHASSEE - The union that represents state correctional officers is suing Gov. Rick Scott's administration, seeking to derail a massive privatization of state prison operations in 18 South Florida counties.

The suit, filed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association against Corrections Secretary Edwin Buss, hopes to block a plan to privatize 30 prisons in Miami-Dade, Broward and 16 other counties.

The prisons house about 20 percent of Florida's 102,000 inmates.

Buss said Tuesday he has not reviewed the lawsuit.

"I'm not sure what the legal argument is, given that this was a legislative mandate," Buss said. "To us, it's like a bell that's already been rung. We're working under a very aggressive time line, and we need to get started on it right away."

The privatization plan was included as part of the 2011-12 state budget as a way to shave costs.

The Legislature required the state to have vendors in place to run the prisons by Jan. 1, 2012.

The union maintains that privatization will result in the loss of jobs by its members. The lawsuit claims the language in the budget mandating the outsourcing is unconstitutionally broad.

"We want to stop prison privatization altogether, but we certainly want to stop this 18-county takeover," said Matt Puckett, the union's Florida executive director. "We consider this just a handout."

The legal challenge by the union is the seventh major lawsuit seeking to block or overturn policies initiated by Scott, a Republican who was elected in November, either through passage of new laws or executive orders.

Other lawsuits take aim at an overhaul of the state elections code, mandatory drug testing for state employees, a freeze on new rulemaking by state agencies and a requirement that government employees contribute 3 percent of their pay to their pensions.

This suit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, says the state has not conducted a cost study to determine whether privatization would save money.

It also says that the state failed to comply with a law requiring an agency to conduct a "business case" to justify any outsourcing in excess of $10 million.

Separate from its lawsuit, the correctional officers' union has requested extensive public records from the prison system, including a list of every factor the state uses to determine the cost of running a prison.

The union will hold a news conference in Miami on Thursday. Union president John Rivera and Jim Baiardi, president of the state chapter of correctional officers, will speak at the news conference at the headquarters of the Miami-Dade County union unit.

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