Issac Morgan, Florida Phoenix
Florida Democrats in the state House on Monday questioned the legality of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent move that transported about 50 asylum seekers from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard and urged GOP leaders to stop using “inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars” for the operation that has sparked nationwide outrage.
Following the controversy, the Democratic House members sent a letter to Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and House Appropriations Chair Jay Trumbull “to object to Governor DeSantis and Florida Department of Transportation’s unlawful actions …”
The law allows “the Chair and vice-chair of the Legislative Budget Commission, or the Senate President and House Speaker, to object to any agency action that exceeds the authority delegated to the executive or judicial branches, or is contrary to legislative policy and intent,” according to the letter.
House Democratic Caucus Leader Designate Fentrice Driskell, and Evan Jenne, who is currently the House Leader representing part of Broward County, wrote the letter and talked about the issue during a virtual news conference Monday.
“It seems that migrants were taken from Texas, brought to Florida, and then sent to Massachusetts for political purposes. It also appears that some of these individuals may be Venezuelan political refugees fleeing an oppressive regime who are not unlawfully present in the United States,” according to the letter. And as to the situation, “it is crystal clear that it was not intended to use state funds to transport migrants into the state solely so they could be deported to Massachusetts. This act is clearly contrary to the policy as written in the budget.”
When asked about whether lawsuits could be filed against the DeSantis administration, Driskell said, “the idea of legal action, I am not going to say that it’s not a possibility.”
As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, the massive state budget included $12 million for the transportation of “unauthorized aliens” out of state. But not many people would have known about that — the amount was squished into page 494 of the 518-page state budget for 2022-23, according to state budget documents.
According to the budget language, SECTION 185 stated: “From the interest earnings associated with the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund (Public Law 117-2), the nonrecurring sum of $12,000,000 from the General Revenue Fund is appropriated to the Department of Transportation for Fiscal Year 2021-2022, for implementing a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.
“The department may, upon the receipt of at least two quotes, negotiate and enter into contracts with private parties, including common carriers, to implement the program. The department may enter into agreements with any applicable federal agency to implement the program. The term “unauthorized alien” means a person who is unlawfully present in the United States according to the terms of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act. The term shall be interpreted consistently with any applicable federal statutes, rules, or regulations. The unexpended balance of funds appropriated to the department in this section remaining as of June 30, 2022, shall revert and is appropriated for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 to the department for the same purpose. This section shall take effect upon becoming a law.”
Meanwhile, the letter states that the governor had said he “intends to ‘spend every penny’ of the $12 million available to him from this program.”
The Democrats also wrote: “The assertion that these people might have wanted to come to Florida is not a sufficient reason to intercept, deceive, and transport asylum seekers two thousand miles. This case has caused national attention and outrage, and quite possibly opened Florida to costly lawsuits. Also, because of that, we ask you act to stop this inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars before it occurs again.”
During the press event, Jenne said “that money was spent on something that will not make Floridians any safer, it’s not going to make the cost of living go down,” Jenne said. “It really doesn’t do anything to help anyone living in the state of Florida. This was about politics.”
Driskell said the governor should be focused on important issues, such as teacher shortages, affordable housing, and protecting women’s reproductive rights.
“We have a governor focused on political stunts,” Driskell said. “It seems to me that the governor has his priorities mixed up.”
“This is a governor who never learned the difference between campaigning and governing. And we’ve seen him on this quest where he’s just continuing to run for office and always using Floridians as a steppingstone to his political ambitions to run for president in 2024. “
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