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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and 90.7 WMFE.

Florida lawmakers have included a $107 million expansion plan for the Florida State Guard

 Gov. Ron DeSantis unveils the Florida State Guard
Photo Courtesy of Governor's Media Page
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https://flgov.smugmug.com/
Gov. Ron DeSantis unveils the Florida State Guard

DeSantis' plan for growth is drawing concerns from human rights groups across the state.

Florida lawmakers have included a multi-million-dollar expansion plan for the Florida State Guard. The civilian military group was revived by Governor Ron DeSantis last year.

Kara Gross is the legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union. She describes the volunteer force as being “DeSantis’ private army.”

"We have significant concerns about the extreme and unprecedented nature of this bill," said Gross. "We think it’s harmful to Floridians and democracy. This bill is a dangerous expansion of the governor’s authority. It is unprecedented and a terrifying abuse of power by the governor."

When DeSantis announced plans to re-establish the World War II era force last year, he said the idea was to recruit ex-military members who could assist National Guard members in emergencies, like hurricanes.

"It’s the federal government plucking our good national guardsmen and sending them around the world and so, we only have a limited capacity at that point," said DeSantis. "So, we thought it would be important to expand that and the easiest way to expand it was to restart something that we had in our state for a long time, our own Florida State Guard. “

This year, lawmakers approved funding to help the State Guard triple in size and gave some members the right to carry firearms and make arrest.

Additionally, members would deploy alongside the National Guard and serve as substitutes for state agencies including law enforcement, environmental protection, or highway safety.

Senator Bryan Avila, R-Miami-Dade, supports the bill. He says having extra bodies would allow people to focus more on public safety.

“The specialized unit within the State Guard would be sort of an MP, law enforcement type of entity," Avila said in a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting last month. "Again, this is in certain times where natural disasters are where you need to stabilize the situation. You need to have a force to augment any local capabilities, rather it’s a sheriff’s office or police department."

To finish the Guard’s reboot, it would cost the state $107 million. Of that, $50 million will go towards aircraft and vehicle carriers including an airplane, several helicopters, and boats.

According to Avila, the state has received more than 3,000 applications so far.

Adrian Andrews is a multimedia journalist with WFSU Public Media. He is a Gadsden County native and a first-generation college graduate from Florida A&M University. Adrian is also a military veteran, ending his career as a Florida Army National Guard Non-Comissioned Officer.

Adrian has experience in print writing, digital content creation, documentary, and film production. He has spent the last four years on the staff of several award-winning publications such as The Famuan, Gadsden County News Corp, and Cumulus Media before joining the WFSU news team.