The Senate is breathing life into Gov. Ron DeSantis’ hopes of reestablishing the Florida State Guard.
Though unaddressed most of Session, the Senate on Sunday proposed $10 million toward recreating the World War II era force. The money would cover six full-time employees, $1.2 million toward infrastructure development and $8.7 million toward creating the force.
The House will now consider the offer. Lawmakers have until Tuesday to pass the budget in order to finish the Session on time.
“They’re very similar to the Guard that we have,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel. “It just basically increases people that can serve some of the same purposes we have with our current Guard in Florida.”
DeSantis announced plans to resurrect the volunteer force in December. It would assist the National Guard during natural disasters and other state-specific emergencies.
Unlike the National Guard, though, the Florida State Guard would answer solely to the Governor. No federal deployments. No federal missions. No federal dollars.
DeSantis’ initial vision included 200 troops at a cost of $3.5 million. Troop numbers and cost, though, soon increased to $5.4 million for 400 members in his Freedom First Budget proposal.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jay Trumbull explained the extra dollars would provide the additional manpower.
“This gets us to about 400 people,” said Trumbull, who has yet to officially agree to the offer.
The lack of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is among the major distinctions between the Florida State Guard and the National Guard.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in August ordered that all troops — including members of the National Guard — get jabbed or face consequences, including possible discharge. All reservists and Guard members face a June deadline to get the shot.
“They would not be subject to vaccine mandates or anything from the feds,” DeSantis said at a January campaign event.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear how many of the Florida National Guard’s roughly 12,000 members are vaccinated. The organization has declined to provide more information on the issue, but says it is actively encouraging members to get the jab.
“We don’t release specific data on vaccination numbers/percentages within the Florida National Guard, as that would constitute an operational security concern since it speaks to readiness,” Florida National Guard Public Affairs Director Caitlin Brown told Florida Politics in a January email.
DeSantis’ plan to resurrect the Florida State Guard — which was disbanded in the late 1940s — garnered national media attention and widespread criticism from Democratic leaders and pundits.
Calling herself a “student of history,” Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried — a 2022 Democratic gubernatorial contender — compared DeSantis to Adolf Hitler during a recent NPR interview.
“I have studied Hitler and how he got to power,” Fried told the radio station. “Wanting his own militia. Having his own army.”
Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist — who is also seeking to oust DeSantis — jumped on the issue too.
“No Governor should have his own hand-picked secret police,” Crist said after the announcement.
Despite the criticism, DeSantis has mocked the initial media coverage. To his point, Florida would become the 23rd state with a state guard under the plan.
“If you turned on NBC, it was: ‘DeSantis is raising an army and he’s gonna raid the planet,’” DeSantis quipped, later adding: “The response from people was … ‘Oh, hell. He’s raising an army? I want to join. Let’s do it.’”
The Florida State Guard — established in 1941 — filled in for Florida National Guard troops as they deployed abroad during World War II.