It wasn't supposed to be a nail biter. It was supposed to be a bill that effortlessly slithered its way through a well-oiled State Legislature.
Here's how it happened:
The Republican-controlled Florida legislature was set to consider a bill that would have authorized private sector bidding on all of South Florida's state prisons. That's twenty-nine prisons in 18 counties. The successful bidder would have to guarantee the state a seven per cent savings on the $232 million Florida now spends on these prisons.
An annual savings of about $20 million-plus was looking better and better to lawmakers faced with a statewide deficit of more than $1 billion for this year alone. That kind of economy looked particularly succulent to Republican lawmakers who have generally had an affinity with private, for-profit prisons. Free enterprise and all that jazz, y'know.
Now, it hadn't been easy to get this legislation to the floor. On its first try, the bill ran smack into a lawsuit filed by the union representing some 4,000 state prison guards. They asserted that the prison privatization bill was unconstitutional because it was part of the state's general budget and not a stand-alone measure as the law requires. A judge agreed.
So it was back to square one for the private prisons. A new stand-alone bill was introduced. It was expected to pass without incident.
But a funny thing happened to the bill on its way to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, a friend of for-profit prisons. Nine Republicans jumped ship.