Posted: Jun 7, 2011 8:48 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A bid to privatize and sell several Louisiana prisons failed to pass the House budget committee Monday in a blow to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had lobbied aggressively for the idea.
The Appropriations Committee voted 13-12 against Jindal's proposal. It came after hours of testimony and weeks of behind-the-scenes work from the governor's office trying to gain support for a bill that lawmakers had predicted would be difficult, if not impossible, to pass.
Jindal called the measure a way to save money, arguing private companies could run the prisons more cheaply and the sales could generate upfront money to spend on other initiatives in a tight budget time.
"This is a sensible step that needs to be taken or needs to be explored considering the budget challenges we face. Other states have done this," said Stephen Waguespack, the governor's executive counsel.
Critics said the sale would damage public safety and boost state costs long-term.
Family members of the prison employees worked hard to defeat the bill, showing up each time the prison sale and privatization was discussed and holding rallies on the Capitol steps. They said while the prison employees could be rehired by the private managers, they would get lower pay and lesser benefits.
"Save our prisons, save our jobs and save our lives," said Angie Bordelon, whose husband works at one prison proposed for sale.
It was unclear whether Jindal would continue to press for outside companies to be hired to run the prison in Rapides Parish and to buy the prisons in Avoyelles, Allen and Winn parishes.
Questioned about the governor's plans, his spokesman issued a statement from Jindal, saying, "We've got about three weeks left of session, and we will continue fighting for our reforms." Spokesman Kyle Plotkin offered no further details.
Jindal initially had proposed the prisons sales to generate nearly $90 million to be plugged into next year's health care budget. But the House already had stripped that measure from the 2011-12 spending plans, and the Appropriations Committee only was considering whether to sell the prisons and use the sale money for one-time items, not for ongoing expenses.
In addition to objecting about the concept, the Jindal administration angered some lawmakers by suggesting that without the privatization and prisons sales, some of the facilities would have to be closed and inmates could be released under the budget proposed by the House.
The governor's corrections secretary, Jimmy LeBlanc, sent out a notice to wardens at five prisons last week ordering them to prepare for layoffs next month.
Lawmakers called it a scare tactic, trying to pressure them to support the prisons sale, which LeBlanc denied.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Henry Burns, wouldn't have immediately put the prisons up for sale, but would have given the state corrections department the ability to solicit bids. A sale still would have required a separate approval from the House and Senate budget committees after it reviewed the proposals offered by outside companies.