A controversial prison privatization bill expected to come to the Florida Senate floor on Wednesday is testing a version of the old adage that “politics makes strange bedfellows.”
In the case of Sen. Greg Evers, the ‘bedfellow’ is his own wife — powerful Democrat lobbyist Lori Weems — who actively opposes the prison privatization move for her union clients. But the bill is supported by Republican legislative leadership and other key state officials — but, Evers is taking his wife’s side, even reportedly working to coax fellow senators to vote ‘against’ the bill.
Prompted by the outrage of Senate colleagues about these tactics, Evers filed a very-late notice on Tuesday that he has a formal conflict of interest because of his wife’s active engagement on the issue for paying clients. But, even with that late disclosure, legislative rules allow Evers to vote his ‘conscience’ on the bill — and he is likely to vote against it, in lockstep with his wife’s clients’ position, much to the amazement of ethics experts and legislative colleagues. Though the rules technically allow Evers to vote, he could voluntarily recuse himself because of the conflict..
The bill before the Senate is SB 2038, authorizing the privatization of all the prison facilities in Region 4 of the Florida Department of Corrections, which is in Southeast Florida. The police and correctional officer unions (PBA, Teamsters, AFL-CIO, Florida Professional Firefighters, etc) are all violently opposed because they would lose union members in all those prisons because they would no longer be public employees — and the bill prohibits them from unionizing.
Some Senate members have more-than-quietly complained about Evers lobbying them on the issue — on the same side as his wife’s paid advocacy. The complaints reached such a pitch this week that Evers reportedly felt compelled to file the conflict of interest document but, apparently, he draws the line at abstaining, which he seems intent on not.
The conflict disclosure form shown states quite clearly that Evers has a relative (wife) who has a financial interest in the outcome of the issue. Logic would seem to dictate abstaining in such a situation — but Evers is likely to do vote in opposition it anyway.
Florida law allows him to declare a conflict and still vote but the practice is usually to declare a conflict and abstain from voting. Evers is likely to be held accountable for this likely vote — either by Senate colleagues who decry his unethical position — or by his wife, if he caves to doing the right thing.
Greg Evers’ Memorandum of Voting Conflict: