TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking Florida state legislators to approve millions of dollars to help his office and other state agencies fight lawsuits stemming from new laws and executive orders.
According to his budget proposal, which was unveiled last week, DeSantis is seeking to increase the litigation spending for the Executive Office of the Governor from $1.6 million last year to $4 million next year.
That is an increase of 250%.
A note in the budget proposal indicates the money would come from the General Fund, and it would be used “to acquire legal representation for lawsuits related to litigation expenses. The department has legal staff and resources to handle ongoing lawsuits. However, in recent years, the department has been involved in a large number of time-sensitive, short-deadline cases, and the resources required to effectively handle the litigation duties have necessitated hiring outside counsel.”
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The governor is also asking the legislature to approve increasing the litigation budget for the Secretary of Administration Services of the State Department from $1 million this year to $5 million next year – a 400% increase.
“The Governor’s Budget Recommendation for Fiscal Year 2023-24 includes $5,000,000 in nonrecurring General Revenue for litigation expenses in order to acquire legal representation for lawsuits related to elections and other departmental litigation,” a note reads under the line item.
“I think the governor is getting sued a lot,” said News 6 Legal Analyst and UCF History Professor Dr. Jim Clark. “(The lawsuits) have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”
News 6 counted at least 17 legal challenges the State of Florida is facing in state and federal courts related to new laws and executive orders over the last four years.
At least three lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts challenging the governor’s decision to move migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last September.
At least three lawsuits challenged SB 90, which changed the election law in Florida and required voters to submit vote-by-mail requests more often, barred friends and family from dropping off ballots and eliminated some ballot drop-off locations.
At least two lawsuits challenge the state’s 15-week abortion law.
The governor’s so-called “Stop Woke Act” is being challenged, along with the so-called “Don’t say Gay” law – the Parental Rights in Education legislation.
Last year’s redistricting has also seen legal challenges.
Several lawsuits filed during the pandemic challenged decisions over mask-wearing in schools, cruise lines rules for passengers and the records being made public about the number of COVID-19 cases in the state of Florida.
Florida A&M also sued the state claiming Historically Black Colleges and Universities do not get equitable funding.
The state was also sued by a coalition of groups over the ban of Sanctuary Cities in Florida.
“I think that people don’t understand. They think that the attorney general represents the governor and represents the state in all these actions, and that’s not the case,” Clark said.
News 6 examined the state budgets of comparable states.
California legislators nearly doubled that state’s legal services revolving fund from $7 million to $12 million.
Texas, meantime, reduced its overall legal budget by 26%.
“The question is — do you expand the attorney general’s office to handle these at one-tenth of the cost, and save the taxpayers millions of dollars?” asked Clark.
News 6 contacted the governor’s office to provide additional context to his budget request and has not heard back.
The governor’s proposal will be sent to the state legislature for its approval during a session that begins in late March.
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