Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed reestablishing a Florida State Guard, or civilian voluntary force, to assist the National Guard in state-specific emergencies.
The governor’s new military budget proposal includes $3.5 million for the State Guard to support emergency-response efforts in the event of hurricanes, other natural disasters, and other state emergencies.
The dedicated funding would enable civilians to be trained in emergency-response techniques and would make Florida the 23rd state with a state guard. This move toward self-reliance would benefit Florida’s emergency preparedness and response, and fiscally benefit the American taxpayers.
The Florida State Guard was first created in 1941 as a temporary force to fill state needs as the Florida National Guard was deployed to assist in the U.S. combat efforts of World War II. Although Florida disbanded the state guard after the war ended, the governor’s authority to establish a state defense force remained in place.
DeSantis has deployed the Florida National Guard to protect major cities after protests and violence broke out in response to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in May 2020. He has also sent them out of state, including to Washington, D.C., to help protect the U.S. Capitol during Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, and to the Texas-Mexico border to assist Texas during this administration’s ongoing border crisis.
It’s the border crisis that demonstrates that states are in more control of their own destiny and can be more self-reliant in addressing emergencies when they have their own state guard and do not have to rely on the federal government — and, potentially, political decision-making — to respond to disasters in their own state.
Enforcing immigration laws is a federal function, yet the Biden Administration has deliberately chosen not to enforce many immigration laws passed by Congress. The predictable result has been historic numbers of illegal crossings across the southwest border, particularly across the Texas-Mexico border.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requested a federal emergency declaration to be reimbursed for the costs Texas has paid due to the federal government’s nonenforcement. The Biden Administration, via the Federal Emergency Management Agency, denied Abbott’s request and then denied his appeal.
To fill the federal enforcement void, Texas has been using its National Guard, the Texas Department of Public Safety, county prosecutors, and state detention centers to arrest, detain, and prosecute aliens illegally crossing the border for state crimes such as trespassing.
While this detention and state prosecution is often a mere speed bump on the road to eventual release into the U.S., it provides Texas border residents needed relief from more property damage, crime, and other threats.
FEMA emphasizes that states and localities need to prepare and be ready for disasters. The agency operates under the framework of “locally executed, state-managed, and federally supported" incident response.
In other words, states and localities lead in emergencies, while the federal government supports and provides guidance.
But states and localities have developed a growing reliance on federal response and funding when local and regional natural disasters occur. The result is that states, subsidized by taxpayers from other states with fewer disasters or better preparedness, are disincentivized to actively prepare for their own disasters.
The Robert T. Stafford Emergency Relief and Disaster Assistance Act of 1988 gave the president the authority to issue disaster declarations for a variety of events. These can range from widespread national disasters to smaller, localized events.
Since passage, the number of such declarations has steadily risen. In 1988, FEMA declared 16 disasters. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama declared 130 disasters per year. From 2017 through 2020, President Donald Trump declared 137, 124, 101, and 311 disasters, respectively. COVID-19 clearly played an inordinate role in the number of 2020 declarations.
Being dependent on federal emergency assistance is a double-edged sword for states and American taxpayers. While federal dollars provide states with financial relief, federal funding burdens all American taxpayers to pay for local or regional disasters.
The federal government should deny more requests, and states should save for, and maintain, their own readiness.
During the COVID-19 response, states, localities, and the private sector have learned that it’s in their interest to be self-reliant and creative, and to plan for contingencies and identify alternative resources and delivery methods.
Those that demonstrated these qualities and actions were able to recover more quickly. Self-reliance includes setting aside and preserving sufficient funding for disaster response and recovery.
So, DeSantis is wisely pursuing the reestablishment of the Florida State Guard. Some on the left are spinning their fear machines, claiming DeSantis is creating his own personal army. They not only ignore the fact that nearly half of the other U.S. states have such a guard, but they also ignore the long-overdue need for states to shoulder more of the emergency response burden. It’s all just to score political points and shape the media narrative in opposition to DeSantis.
Floridians and emergency management experts should applaud this self-sufficiency proposal. Less dependence on the federal government increases states’ opportunities, accelerates their recovery, and saves American taxpayer funds.
The remaining 27 states should follow DeSantis’ lead.
Lora Ries is director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Technology Policy and also serves as a homeland security senior research fellow.
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on The Daily Signal.