Saturday, March 25, 2023

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: DeSantis’ State Guard vision: planes, boats, police powers. (Tampa Bay Times)

Our "local Mussolini," as eminent Presidential historian Michael Beschloss correctly calls RONALD DION DeSANTIS, is Donald Trump in drag, a fascist, a feculent petty dictator and pied piper for low-information voters.  What do y'all reckon?

From Tampa Bay Times: 

DeSantis’ State Guard vision: planes, boats, police powers

DeSantis has requested nearly $100 million for the new State Guard force.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a nearly $100 million budget for the Florida State Guard.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a nearly $100 million budget for the Florida State Guard. [ RICARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Earlier today

TALLAHASSEE — When Gov. Ron DeSantis first proposed reviving the long-dormant Florida State Guard, he wanted 200 volunteers and a modest $5 million budget.

Then it grew to 400 members and $10 million.

Now it’s 1,500 members and a nearly $100 million budget — with police powers, helicopters, boats and, under one lawmaker’s request, cellphone-hacking technology.

The proposed budget for the Florida State Guard, released by a House committee on Tuesday, offers the most detailed realization of DeSantis’ vision for the State Guard, a WWII-era force brought back last year to supplement the state’s overworked Florida National Guard.

DeSantis told lawmakers he wanted $98 million for the program, but didn’t offer many details. Republican leaders in the House largely mirrored DeSantis’ proposal, proposing more than $89 million in their budget, including six boats and tow vehicles, $49.5 million for planes and helicopters, $22.7 million to store those vehicles and $10 million for a new headquarters.

They also want another $750,000 to contract with the Israeli company Cellebrite to create a new “Digital Forensic Center of Excellence” that would help the State Guard target human trafficking and drug and child exploitation crimes, including on farms. Cellebrite is often hired by police departments because of its ability to break into iPhones.

None of the funding has been included so far in the Florida Senate’sproposed budget. Nor have senators filed DeSantis’ bill expanding the size and scope of the State Guard. Both could be part of bargaining between the chambers as they work to craft an identical budget for the state during the 60-day legislative session, which is scheduled to end in May.

The House bill, HB 1285, modeled on DeSantis’ proposed legislation, would create a specialized law enforcement unit within the State Guard, with the ability to bear arms and make arrests. Its scope would also be expanded, from only being activated during emergencies to being activated to “protect and defend the people of Florida from threats to public safety.”

Nearly half of states have state guards, which typically assist national guard units in responding to emergencies and natural disasters. Unlike national guards, state guards are voluntary — members can usually quit when they want to — and only the governor can activate them.

Few, if any, state guards appear to have the powers that Florida is considering, however. The Texas State Guard, for example, has been deployed to address the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, but it does not have a law enforcement unit and its members do not carry weapons and can’t make arrests, according to a spokesperson. Nor does it have helicopters, airplanes or cellphone-hacking technology. (It does have small watercraft.)

Some legislators on both sides of the aisle have balked at the governor’s proposal.

“It was a lot — $100 million — and they have 400 members,” said Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, the head of the Senate committee that sets the budget for the Department of Military Affairs. “I’m not sure they’re ready, in this budget, to spend that kind of money.”

The State Guard currently has fewer members than that.

State law allows the force to have up to 400 volunteers, but it is yet to be up and running. It is still “gearing up and training,” a DeSantis spokesperson said in January. In February, the office told the Times/Herald in response to a public records request for its training materials that it had no records.

In October, its first director died suddenly. DeSantis announced his replacement — Luis Soler, a captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve — in January.

RELATED: DeSantis announces new head of Florida State Guard

The State Guard has 3,500 credible applicants, including a “massive” number of current and former federal and local law enforcement officers, Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, told lawmakers earlier this month.

“They haven’t been able to give the official offer to a lot of them because they’re still trying to create that leadership,” said Giallombardo, who is sponsoring HB 1285.

When DeSantis first proposed reviving the force, it was as a 200-member volunteer force to help the state’s 12,000 National Guard members respond to emergencies. The Florida National Guard is ranked 53 out of 54 states and territories in the ratio of Guard personnel to state population because federal officials have not expanded its ranks.

In his statements to lawmakers, Giallombardo described a different vision for the State Guard.

Instead of only operating within Florida, as DeSantis first proposed, the State Guard could be dispatched to other states through agreements.

Under the House proposal, the State Guard would also be used to augment various state agencies, similar to how National Guard members have been dispatched to state prisons to cover shortages of corrections officers.

Every state agency has been asked to identify “critical needs” and gaps that State Guard members could fill, Giallombardo said.

Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, called the proposal for more State Guard members and more money “unnecessary.”

“It’s really gross, it does not make anyone more safe, and it’s just all about DeSantis silencing dissent and trying to out-Trump Trump,” said Eskamani, who voted against the bill.

The $750,000 for Cellebrite — half of what was requested by the company, records show — would be the state’s biggest agreement with the Israeli firm. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles have paid the company about $430,000 combined over the last decade, state records show.

DeSantis, who met with Cellebrite executives during a 2019 trip to Israel, does not take positions on lawmakers’ funding proposals, a spokesperson said.

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