Budget conference: House budgets $12M for ‘unauthorized alien transport’ while Senate slots nothing
Refugees in Martha's Vineyard after Gov. Ron DeSantis flew two planes of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard. Image via AP.

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The program generated national headlines last September after it landed 48 Venezuelans in Martha's Vineyard.

The House budgeted $12 million for the transport of “unauthorized aliens,” but the Senate has allocated nothing for that item.

The House’s first offer remains at $12 million, showing the lower chamber is not inclined to back down. The item mirrors Gov. Ron DeSantis budget request for the same thing.

That is the same amount that was budgeted for migrant transport last year and used in a way that generated much controversy — and national headlines.

The state paid part of a $12 million appropriation to fly 48 Venezuelans from San Antonio, Texas, to swanky Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last September in a move that many said exploited vulnerable human beings for a political stunt.

Photos went worldwide showing needy migrants in the seaside community that is home to the rich and famous, like former President Barack and Michelle Obama, movie director Spike Lee and TV journalist Diane Sawyer.

The migrants were promised jobs and housing when they got on the plane, according to reports. And legislators said they allocated the money with the belief that the program would involve migrants in Florida.

The incident prompted Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami to file suit, saying that the money had been used unconstitutionally. The Legislature acted in February, though, and the problem identified in Pizzo’s suit was cured in a Special Session that expanded the program to allow transfer of out-of-state migrants, rendering the lawsuit moot.

For the funding requested this year, the Governor’s budget says the money can be used to move migrants “from any point of origin in the United States to any jurisdiction.”

Budget conference subcommittees will meet throughout the week to resolve differences in each area. When remaining issues reach an impasse, they will be “bumped” to the full budget conference committee.

Lawmakers must reach an agreement on a final spending plan by May 2 to meet the 72-hour “cooling off” period required by the state constitution before they can vote on the budget to avoid pushing the Regular Session past its scheduled May 5 end date.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

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