September 28, 2023

Florida National Guard members would be paid for recruiting to build up military in the state

TALLAHASSEE --- Most members of the Florida National Guard could be paid to bring in new recruits, as lawmakers expand efforts to bulk up the military in the state.

The House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee on Monday unanimously supported a bill (HB 723) that would provide $250 to “recruiting assistants” for each new member referred to the National Guard and an additional $250 upon a recruit’s enlistment.

The measure, which would create the Florida National Guard Joint Enlistment Enhancement Program, or “JEEP,” also would allow guard retirees to serve as recruiting assistants.

Bill sponsor Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, said the Florida National Guard has struggled to maintain the maximum strength allowed under federal law.

“The JEEP program would create an incentive-based program for existing members and retired members,” Daley said.

The proposal also comes as the Legislature could send a memorial — a type of resolution — to Congress seeking to increase the size of the Florida National Guard (SM 1036 and HM 971).

The Florida National Guard had 10,314 members in the Army National Guard and 2,165 in the Air National Guard as of September. That put the Florida force proportionally 53rd in size from among 54 states and territories that have a National Guard, according to a state analysis.

“Along with the state’s low positioning of Florida National Guard members to current population, Florida is expected to increase in population by 5 million over the next 10 years,” the analysis said. “Moreover, Florida ranks as the fourth most disaster-prone state nationally.”

Daley’s recruitment proposal would join similar “enhancement programs” in Alabama, Delaware, Vermont and Virginia. All but Vermont offers $500 per recruit. Vermont offers $1,000 per qualified recruit.

A staff analysis of the House proposal doesn’t list a fiscal impact other than to note “expenditures are dependent upon the number of successful referrals and enlistments.”

A Senate version (SB 1138), filed by Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Chairman Sen. Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, includes a $70,000 appropriation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis last year reactivated a volunteer Florida State Guard to assist the National Guard during emergencies.

DeSantis has called for an increase in the Florida State Guard from 400 to 1,500 members, with funding increased from $10 million this fiscal year to more than $95 million, including the addition of aviation and maritime equipment.

Meanwhile, a House proposal (HB 1285) seeks to set up a criminal-justice unit within the Florida State Guard.

Another measure backed by the House subcommittee on Monday would shield from public records the identification and location of anyone who served in the U.S. armed forces, the Reserves or the National Guard since September 11, 2001.

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