Our Law Makers Need More Information

April 12, 2013

Opt-Ed Article

By Robert Asencio

President, Florida Public Employees

Leaving Tallahasee last week, after meeting with certain key legislators to talk about the Florida Retirement System bill ( CS/SB 1392. and HB 7011.) the appropriations bill (S 1500.) that excludes some state law enforcement officers from a much needed pay-adjustment, I became sure of only one thing:

Our lawmakers need more information.

Several of the senators and state representatives that we spoke to in the span of thee days were surprised to learn that state probation and corrections officers were excluded from the long-overdue adjustment in Florida law enforcement’s pay.

They were even more shocked to learn that this is the third time that state Department of Corrections and probation officers are excluded from pay raises, after 2008 and 2011.

Most of them asked for us to follow up with more information, which Florida Public Employees is only happy to do. We understand that we are far more versed in some issues than others and that our state legislators have to deal with everything under the sun.

We also understand that including all law enforcement equally, Senate Bill S-1500 Appropriations, would take some creative shuffling of the $74 billion state budget.

But it is the right thing to do. Any further discrimination between the any law enforcement officers should not be tolerated.

Consider these facts:

  • More corrections officers die in the line of duty that police officers on the street.
  • There are 146 probation officers overseeing the supervised release of 145,000 felons across the state.
  • The turnover rate among corrections officers and probation officers is higher than that of the FHP, which is cited as a reason for the raise in the Republican-drafted appropriations bill.  While there were 1,454 corrections officers across the state in December of 2012 (the last date for which data is available,) that is a sharp decline from 2,327 in December of 2007.
  • Meanwhile the inmate population remains stable at just over or under 100,000.
  • A low officer to prisoner ratio would result in more early release programs, which are coincidentally being privatized through other state measures.

Don’t worry if you didn’t know these things. Most of your elected leaders didn’t know either.

The bill’s author, Sen. Joe Negron, didn’t know all the details. He was happy to receive information that shows our corrections officers have a 20 percent gap in pay compared to other states.

Sen. Negron was kind enough to give us an impromptu audience in his office last week, and he told us that we would need to find $32 million to bring the law enforcement community back together. Maybe one of our very own, highly educated corrections officers can find some projects that we can prioritize next year.

But even if that seemingly smallish piece of the state’s $74 billion pie cannot be found, what’s wrong with dividing the pie you do have evenly?

We are relieved that there has been an amendment made by some of our legislators that would include the corrections and probation officers.

But there is more work to do to further inform our representatives and help them make the best decisions they can for all of us. Florida Public Employees will return before the end of the session to follow up on some of our conversations and see where the legislation is going.

Meantime, we all need let our leaders know, not just as law enforcement officers, but as a community, that we do not tolerate the further dividing of our state law enforcement officers.

We need to let our state law enforcement officers know that we value them all.


 

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