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Fasano is removed as chairman of budget committee for opposing prison plan

Minutes after the Senate leaders were forced to postpone a vote on a controversial bill to privatize 19 South Florida prisons because they couldn't muster the votes, the head of the opposition, Sen. Mike Fasano, was removed as chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee. 

Senate President Mike Haridopolos called Fasano into his office and gave him the bad news, he said, because he said "he was not rowing the same direction."

Privatizing Florida's prisons has been a top priority of Haridopolos, Sen. Don Gaetz and Senate budget chariman JD Alexander for the past two years but Fasano's ability to coalesce a coalition of Democrats and Republicans against the effort has stymied their efforts. Last year, Alexander slipped the measure into budget conforming bills to avoid a stand-alone vote on the issue. When the issue was challenged by the union representing prison guards, a Leon County Court judge ruled the way they enacted it was unconstitutional.

This year, they attempted to pass the proposal again and on Wednesday, after two days of behind-the-scenes lobbying, including a personal lobbying effort by Gov. Rick Scott, they removed the item from the agenda because they didn't have the votes.

"This is a budget decision,'' Haridopolos said. "It's become clear to me that Sen. Fasano was not willing to make these choices." He suggested that Fasano would not be able to complete a prisons budget without the estimated $16 million to $30 million in savings from the privatization plan.

Replacing Fasano as chairman of the committee will be Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. Bogdanoff, who had been chairowoman of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee, will be replaced by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa.

Fasano said in a statement that he was proud to vote his conscience "no matter what the consquences may be."


“No matter how big the bully in the schoolyard may be, if the loss of a chairmanship is the result of taking a stand for what is right, I wear that loss as a badge of honor,'' he wrote. 
“As the final days of the president’s tenure comes to a close I encourage him to stand up for taxpayers and consumers to ensure that each and every tax dollar is spent wisely.  The special interests should not prevail.  I hope that he will do what is right and remember why we were all sent to Tallahassee.”