The Florida State Guard, revived by Gov. Ron DeSantis, could operate outside Florida and be called into service anytime he “deemed necessary,” under a bill approved Thursday by a House panel.
The House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee voted 11-3 to support a proposal (HB 1551) that would remove part of a law that keeps the State Guard’s activities only in the state.
Bill sponsor Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, described the bill’s proposed changes, which also include lessening training requirements, as “technical.”
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The bill would clarify that the State Guard can be deployed to other states under an existing Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which lets states share resources during natural and man-made disasters.
Gov. DeSantis addressed the possibility of the State Guard being sent to assist Texas with immigration issues at the Mexican boarder during a news conference in Central Florida on Friday.
“I think that what’s happening in Texas is not just the Texas issue. It’s an American issue,” DeSantis said. “I think it’s good policy to be able to allow us to fulfill requests from other states with either the National Guard or the State Guard. And the issue with the Texas border, though, if we have Florida State Guard and other states have their own state guards, then that’s not something that [President Joe] Biden could just simply federalize.”
The State Guard was initially set up during World War II to replace Florida National Guard members who were deployed abroad. It became inactive in 1947.
After DeSantis revived the volunteer force in 2022, the size of the State Guard was expanded from up to 400 members to 1,500 members last year, and the Legislature increased its funding from $10 million to $107.6 million, including covering the costs of five aircraft and boats.
Rep. Dan Daley, a Coral Springs Democrat who voted against the bill Thursday, said there is a “year-after-year creep” in the size and duties of the State Guard. He pointed to the purchase of aircraft and boats.
“The Florida State Guard was sold to the Legislature with one thing in mind, to be an auxiliary, to be a support system, to direct traffic, to do things that national guardsmen, who are already overworked and understaffed, do,” Daley said.
Daley added the Legislature should continue to focus on expanding the size and role of the National Guard, which lawmakers have been asking Congress to do the past few years.
In addition to deployments, Giallombardo’s bill would remove a requirement that state guard standards and training be equivalent to the Florida National Guard. It also would expand the governor’s power to activate the state guard such as during periods of civil unrest and “at any other time deemed necessary and appropriate.”
Regarding the training standards, Giallombardo, a member of the Florida Army National Guard, said new recruits for the State Guard are not the same as people heading into the National Guard.
“These normally are not 18-year-olds coming to the State Guard,” Giallombardo said. “So, they’re going to be a little more flexible on the training and the standards, so they can on-board medical professionals, IT (information technology) folks that don’t have to necessarily meet military requirements.”
The bill would require new recruits to submit fingerprints, paid for by the state, for the FBI to conduct national criminal-history records checks.
The governor’s office in June issued a news release announcing the State Guard’s first graduating class of more than 100 members. DeSantis has requested an additional $57 million for the State Guard next fiscal year.
A Senate version (SB 1694) of Giallombardo’s bill has not been heard in committees as the Legislature finishes its third week of the 60-day session.