PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled into Ponte Vedra Beach bearing “Christmas in March” bonuses for Florida’s first responders—in recognition of their efforts as well as to offset what he called “Bidenflation.”
As in 2021, law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs and paramedics will be eligible to receive a $1,000 bonus, the Republican governor announced.
“Bonuses were something that we wanted to do, not only because it was the right thing to do … it was a necessary thing to do, given what we’re seeing in the economy,” DeSantis told a crowd at Ponte Vedra Beach on March 31. “You do a bonus because you say thank you. Also, you just need to do it to help them deal with the ‘Bidenflation’ that you’re seeing.”
The Chief Financial Officer for the State of Florida Jimmy Patronis described the event as “Christmas in March” and, referring to the governor as “DeSantis Claus,” said the bonuses would be an investment in the communities the officers serve.
“The law enforcement community is so integral to the safety and security of the citizens of Florida,” he said. “But it’s also vital to our economy; people will not relocate their families or businesses to a state that is not safe.”
To that end, DeSantis said he is approving $100 million from the state’s budget to reward those who “are on the frontlines protecting communities.”
The bonuses are expected to be given out after formal review and approval of the budget.
The country is experiencing “huge crushing inflation” that hasn’t been seen in more than four decades, DeSantis said. “Gas prices are like we haven’t seen in an awfully long time.”
The governor also indicated that he is planning to sign the HB 3 bill, which would provide financial incentives and enhanced training to recruit and retain law enforcement officers in the state. It would also increase the salaries of county sheriffs and give them more spending flexibility in budgets.
The drafting of the bill was due in part to a legal battle, when then-Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell attempted to shift money within her budget and the county commission fought the move, provoking a lawsuit that landed in the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled last January that the money could not be shifted without county commission approval.
In his 30-page ruling, Justice John Couriel wrote that state law specifically provides a process for budget amendments and that the “Legislature decided the sheriff must obtain the county’s approval before amending those appropriations that the county had previously fixed and approved from the funds it had collected.”
HB 3 was sponsored by State Sen. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who said the amendment “clearly is my attempt to preserve the independence of the sheriffs and give them the flexibility to ensure the safety of the citizens.” There were things that “happen in this state in every county that none of us can know about or predict,” he added.
Opposing the bill was State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, who argued that “sheriffs already have spending flexibility during emergencies, and the amendment would reduce local government oversight of the sheriffs’ budgets.”
DeSantis, who has the final say on HB 3, said the legislation symbolizes support for “folks that wear the uniform.”
“This is not rocket science–the more the community is supporting law enforcement, the more that we have good laws that promote public safety, the safer our communities are going to be,” he said during the press conference. “If you cut police budgets and you turn your back on law enforcement, you’re giving the criminals an upper hand … [which] makes families less safe–that’s why you see many decaying jurisdictions around the country.”
St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick thanked the governor for the bonus and said that he and his deputies are “committed to providing the safest place to live, work, play, and raise a family.”
Putnam County Sheriff Homer “Gator” DeLoach echoed Hardwick’s sentiments, adding that $1,000 goes a long way in his county.
“Coming from a small, fiscally constrained county, a $1,000 bonus is a lot of money,” he told reporters. “It could mean the difference between buying groceries or even taking a family vacation with inflation the way it is.”
He said he gives “thanks to God” every day that he does not live in a place where law enforcement is “vilified and demonized and defunded.”
“Being in a smaller community like Putnam County, I have the opportunity to establish long-lasting friendships and relationships I wouldn’t have in a more metropolitan area. At restaurants, ball fields, and other community events, residents feel comfortable approaching me and letting me know how I’m doing–for better or for worse–and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” DeLoach said earlier in an online statement.