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Florida House reworks bill that would’ve restricted State Guard deployments

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(The Center Square) — A bill that would have possibly prevented Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from sending the Florida State Guard to the nation’s southern border has been rewritten to remove that provision.

Instead, House Bill 1551, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R- Cape Coral, was replaced by a committee substitute authored by the Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

The new bill, if it becomes law, would add extra screening requirements for its applicants for the State Guard, which was created in 2022. Federal law allows U.S. states and territories to create an additional “defense forces” separate from the National Guard that aren’t subject to a federal call-up.

The Florida State Guard is all volunteer and is capped at a strength of 1,500 members.

The rewritten bill would require applicants to the State Guard to submit fingerprints that would be processed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and then forwarded to the FBI for a national criminal history check.

The law enforcement department would be required to retain fingerprints and any arrest records, which would be reported to the state Department of Military Affairs.

In a news release in early February, DeSantis announced that the reinforcements sent to the border will be used to add additional barriers, including razor wire. The two-term Republican governor and GOP presidential candidate also sent 1,000 National Guardsmen to help control the border.

“States have every right to defend their sovereignty and we are pleased to increase our support to Texas as the Lone Star State works to stop the invasion across the border… We don’t have a country if we don’t have a border.” DeSantis said in his news release.

If HB 1285’s original form would’ve become law, deploying the State Guard outside of the Sunshine State would’ve been unlawful.

According to HB 1285’s original summary, the Guard would provide support under an Emergency Management Assistance Compact to other states.

The bill’s original text specifies that the State Guard would be used exclusively within the state or provide support to other states. It also would not be available to be used in any way by U.S. armed forces and the number of volunteer positions was increased from 400 to 1,500.

Giallombardo said during the bill’s passage through the House Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee that the bill’s only purpose is to add level two background checks for applicants to the Florida State Guard.

The bill follows legislation passed during the 2023 regular session, HB 1285, which was also sponsored by Giallombardo and made the State Guard a permanent volunteer force that would be directed to protect and defend the public from threats to public safety.