- The DeSantis Administration urged a circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit over state-funded flights of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard
- The motion argues that Democrat State Senator Jason Pizzo, who filed the lawsuit, does not have legal standing to pursue the case
- Pizzo argued that the appropriation and expenditure of $12 million for the flights required separate laws because the expenditure qualifies as a “substantive policy”
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration Monday urged a circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a South Florida senator who alleges state-funded flights of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts violated the Florida Constitution and another law.
Lawyers for DeSantis and the Florida Department of Transportation filed a 29-page motion disputing the allegations and arguing that Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, did not show he had legal standing to pursue the case.
Pizzo filed the lawsuit Sept. 22 in Leon County circuit court, about a week after a state contractor flew about 50 migrants, mostly Venezuelans, from Texas to Massachusetts. The two flights started in San Antonio, stopped in the northwest Florida community of Crestview, and then went on to Massachusetts.
DeSantis has long battled the Biden administration about immigration policy, and lawmakers included $12 million in this year’s state budget “for implementing a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state consistent with federal law.” The state Department of Transportation tapped into part of that money to pay contractor Vertol Systems Company Inc. for the flights.
In the lawsuit, Pizzo cited part of the Florida Constitution and said “substantive” policies are required to be approved in separate laws, rather than through the budget. The lawsuit contends that a section of the budget that includes the $12 million “establishes a substantive policy of the state of Florida to transport aliens from this state consistent with federal law within the general appropriations act (the budget), as opposed to separately filed, presented and deliberated legislation.”
But in the motion Monday, the DeSantis administration lawyers argued that Pizzo “does not provide any factual allegations demonstrating which substantive law it (the section of the budget) amends, or how it amends that law. Moreover, the conditions and authorizations he challenges in (the section of the budget) — to implement a program to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens out of state, and to enter into contracts with the federal government and third parties to do so — are intertwined with the aim of the appropriation.”
Part of the controversy about the flights is that the DeSantis administration used Florida money to fly migrants from Texas. But the motion Monday contended the flights were legal because they went from Florida to Massachusetts, after the stop in Crestview.
The motion said the DeSantis administration “used the funds to transport unauthorized aliens from Florida to Massachusetts, directly fulfilling the requirement that the funds be used for ‘the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.’”
“Thus, the only question is whether the appropriation also covered the costs of transporting the aliens from Texas to Florida, including ancillary costs for providing accommodations, food, haircuts and information packets to the aliens,” the motion said. “Because that leg served ‘to facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state,’ it too was covered.”
The motion said Pizzo also does not have standing in the case because he “does not allege an injury resulting from the allegations in the complaint.”
Pizzo, a former prosecutor, is listed in the lawsuit as a “citizen and taxpayer.”
Along with addressing the budget, the lawsuit contends that the DeSantis administration violated a state law that bars government agencies from entering contracts with transportation companies if those companies are “willfully providing any service in furtherance of transporting a person into the state of Florida knowing that the person is an unauthorized alien, except to facilitate the detention, removal or departure of the person from this state or the United States.”
The lawsuit alleges that, with the flights, the state “has entered into a contract to willfully transport a person or persons into the state of Florida knowing that the person is an unauthorized alien, while not meeting any of the exceptions” in the law.
The Sept. 14 flights have drawn international attention and spurred a potential class-action lawsuit filed against DeSantis, Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and people who helped recruit the immigrants in Texas.
DeSantis, who is widely considered a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, contends that undocumented immigrants can pose a threat to Florida and has blasted “sanctuary” communities, such as Martha’s Vineyard.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also was named as a defendant in the case, filed a motion last month to dismiss claims against him. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper has scheduled a Nov. 14 hearing to consider the motions.