Florida could become the 23rd state in the nation to establish what the governor's office is calling its own civilian volunteer force.
What You Need To Know
- Gov. Ron DeSantis seeks to establish Florida State Guard
- The state guard would be under the governor's control
- DeSantis has requested $3.5 million to fund the guard
- One local leader says help with emergencies isn't needed from state guard
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he wants to bring back a state guard to the Sunshine State, in addition to his plans to bolster funding for the Florida National Guard.
A state guard would answer directly to the governor, not the Pentagon. The right for a Florida governor to authorize a state guard was initially passed by lawmakers 80 years ago, in 1941.
DeSantis asked lawmakers for $3.5 million to establish a state guard for Florida and train up to 200 civilian members.
But officials in the state are split on whether Florida needs such a force.
Under DeSantis’ proposal, the state guard would respond to state emergencies, hurricanes and natural disasters. Currently, the Florida National Guard is brought in to assist in those situations.
Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris said if a hurricane hits, his county rarely needs much help from the National Guard, if they need any at all.
"We have not really used the National Guard in the past," Harris said. "Maybe if we were hit by a very, very strong hurricane, we may ask for a few National Guard support staff, but it’s just not been our history that we’ve needed that type of support."
Instead, the county turns first for help from faith-based and nonprofit response groups that move quickly within the county. Seminole also participates in the emergency management assistance compact and state mutual aid agreements in place that allow them to bring in specialized assistance or send it out to others, like when the local urban search-and-rescue team responded to the building collapse in Surfside earlier this year.
“The emergency management assistance compact and the state mutual aid agreement have been around since Hurricane Andrew times, since the ’90s, and that’s worked very, very effectively to move first responders, support agencies, law enforcement, fire rescue around the community, around the state and around the nation,” Harris said. “So we’ve done that very effectively for years and years, decades.
"Most of the time after a hurricane or for other types of response, we need very specific type of assistance like urban search and rescue teams, medical teams, not really something that like a military-type team would be."
DeSantis’ state guard proposal comes on the heels of vaccination mandates within the National Guard.
“And so the fact that Gov. DeSantis is now suggesting to reactivate a state guard that would not be under control of the federal government really suggests that he’s trying to poke his finger in the eye of Joe Biden a little bit at this,” UCF political science professor Aubrey Jewett said. “But, just because there may be some political reasons behind bringing this up now doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.”
Twenty-two other states have state guards already in place. California utilizes its state guard regularly to respond to earthquakes and wildfires.
Florida National Guard members are held to federal needs and can be deployed overseas, Jewett said, whereas a state guard would be used only for Florida needs.
“The Florida National Guard right now is only about 12,000 people, and if you rank all the states currently, Florida is like 49th out of 50 in their guard per capita,” Jewett said. “So we could use more people in the guard or perhaps maybe the solution is a separate state guard that is on call for just state purposes.
“But you might get a bigger bang for your buck in terms of efficiency, rather than just trying to create a whole separate state guard by just putting more time and effort into the existing National Guard, get more people recruited and get more people trained."
Spectrum News 13 reached out to the governor's office for comments about his proposal to bring back the state guard.
It released the following statement:
“We want to make sure that we have the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible. That will require us to have access and be able to use support in ways that are not encumbered by the federal government or don't require federal government … The Florida State Guard will act as a civilian volunteer force that will have the ability to assist the National Guard and state-specific emergencies. This funding will support the necessary training equipment and other support functions for up to 200 members who can aid in the response to hurricanes, natural disasters, and other state emergencies. We want to be able to have a quick response capability, and re-establishing the Florida State Guard will allow civilians from all over the state to be trained in the best emergency response techniques and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly.”