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Coronavirus in Florida

Infectious disease funding for prisons vetoed as COVID-19 cases in Florida soar

Money was earmarked for Hepatitis C, but could be redirected for pandemic response.

As Florida faces a rapidly spreading pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $28 million for infectious disease drug treatment.

The move cut a sizable chunk of funding set aside by the Florida Legislature for the infectious diseases treatment, a veto from a $112.9 million appropriation for inmate treatment.

Lawmakers earmarked the $28 million in nonrecurring funding for F0-F1 Hepatitis C treatment, according to appropriations documents. Notably, the funding was contingent upon an adverse outcome in a lawsuit against the state, after the conclusion of all appeals in a class action suit, which required the facilities to treatment inmates who tested positive for Hepatitis C as of December 2017.

But the Department of Corrections was also specifically authorized to submit a budget amendment to release funds if needed to respond to a pandemic in the prison system.

At least 23 inmates in Florida prisons have died from COVID-19, the state reports. The deaths have occurred at eight prisons throughout the state.

The veto in one sense represents the budgetary trap in the midst of a pandemic. Revenue estimates show state dollars plummeted in the first four months of the year and the state is $1.46 billion in the hole. That means a necessary dip into the nearly $4 billion in state reserves.

The concern about shortfalls prompted DeSantis on Monday to veto a record $1+ billion from Florida’s budget. That included dipping into trusts and slaying member projects.

But it’s a bit of a shock to see funding for an infection disease drug treatment program cut as COVID-19 rages.

The past week brought a surge in cases in Florida. It was just June 22 when the Florida Department of Health reported more than 100,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the state of Florida. That number dates back to the first reported Florida cases on March 1.

While it took almost four months to hit a six-figure caseload, Florida on Monday — one week later, — reported upward of 146,000 cases.

The Governor has repeatedly said he expects further outbreaks to impact Florida’s prison systems, but stressed that’s a controlled and contained population of patients.

Criminal justice reform advocates, meanwhile, pushed for more early release for at-risk and non-violent offenders to reduce populations in corrections institutes.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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