Budget writers agree on Florida State Guard as deadline looms

Author: Jim Turner / News Service of Florida
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, are negotiating a state budget. Credit: Jim Turner

With legislative leaders trying to meet a Tuesday deadline for finishing a new state budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis will get more money than he requested for a reactivated Florida State Guard and to relocate undocumented immigrants out of the state.

Budget chiefs also agreed Sunday night to provide money for DeSantis’ effort to attract law-enforcement officers from other states, while numerous other issues remained unresolved.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said they expected talks to resume Monday morning.

With a legally required 72-hour “cooling off” period before the House and Senate can vote on the budget, leaders must finish a spending plan Tuesday to end the annual legislative session as scheduled Friday. The budget likely will top $100 billion and will take effect July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

Trumbull acknowledged his attention has at times been diverted to wildfires that raged throughout the weekend in Bay County, his home county.

“It’s incredible to be able to watch what fire-rescue is doing and what state resources there are making sure that people are safe,” Trumbull said Saturday, noting he traveled to Bay County that morning.

Trumbull added that lawmakers could add more money for dealing with wildfires with conditions for the blazes growing statewide.

“I don’t think it’s specific to Northwest Florida,” Trumbull said. “I think from looking at the agriculture silo (of the budget) as a whole, maybe looking for opportunities to put more resources there.”

The House and Senate leaders Sunday night fixed at $10 million an amount to re-establish the Florida State Guard, which was a defense force set up during World War II to replace Florida National Guard members who were deployed abroad.

DeSantis requested $5.4 million to train and equip a 200-member force that would be used to assist the Florida National Guard during emergencies.

Trumbull said the budget line “gets us about 400 people.”

Also, the Department of Transportation is expected to receive a one-time payment of $12 million to set up a program for the “transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.”

The budget would allow the department to contract with a private provider or reach an agreement with a federal agency to undertake the relocation work while maintaining that any of the work would remain consistent with federal law.

DeSantis requested $8 million and has made that part of his campaign speeches, drawing cheers when saying undocumented immigrants would be rerouted to President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware.

The Senate also agreed to spend $20 million that the House had approved as part of bill (HB 3) that includes establishing a program to provide one-time payments of up to $5,000 to newly employed law-enforcement officers.

The bill also would set up a Florida Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship Program to cover basic-training tuition and fees for new officers and reward officers who adopt children.

DeSantis, who is running for re-election this year, has made beefing up law enforcement a hallmark of his policies through such things as the proposed bonuses.

The Senate also dropped a push to provide a more-permanent allocation of $50 million a year for the Visit Florida tourism marketing agency.

The two sides had agreed early in the talks to spend $50 million in the coming year on Visit Florida, the same amount as this year. But the Senate wanted to make that amount “recurring,” which would have more firmly established it as an annual amount. House leaders had concerns about some past spending by the agency and preferred to handle the issue on a year-by-year basis.

“One of the best ways we, as the appropriators, have to remedy bad behaviors is to put non-recurring on it,” Trumbull said Saturday. “They have done a good job as of late of making good decisions, using the state’s resources.”

The Senate this week will take up a House proposal to extend Visit Florida’s legal authorization to operate until Oct. 1, 2028. Under current law, Visit Florida would be repealed Oct. 1, 2023, without an extension, and the Senate had sought to move the date to Oct. 1, 2031.

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