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Florida taxpayers pay $116K for increased security at state Capitol

6:23 PM, Jul 24, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The continuing sit-in at the state Capitol is increasing security costs for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The department said it has been forced to bring in extra officers and pay more overtime during the first week of the protest, so the total bill is $116,000.

Much of that cost includes the salaries of officers' regular shifts. But the FDLE estimates Capitol Police have earned about $46,000 in overtime in one week.

Members of the Dream Defenders are pushing for a special legislative session focusing on Florida's Stand Your Ground law, racial profiling and juvenile justice.

Spokesman Phillip Agnew said if the state is trying to shift the conversation to money, then it's time to talk about zero-tolerance school policies that send kids into the criminal justice system and increase incarceration costs.

"We didn't come here to waste people's money or time. We want the governor to engage us in a real discussion about the future of the country. But if he wants to divert the conversation to fiscal responsibility, there's a strong argument that prisons and the way that he arrests children and houses children actually hurts the state a lot more."

The protesters arrived at the state Capitol several days after the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman. Some of them have been sleeping inside the Capitol, in the hallway just outside Gov. Rick Scott's office, every night since July 16.

Agnew said their morale is high after nine days and they are committed to staying in the Capitol until lawmakers meet in special session.

"We're here for the future of our kids. So how much money are you willing to save when you're talking about young people? I think they deserve the best. I think our young people deserve the best possible opportunity for a productive future. So costs? How much are you willing to spend on your kids?"

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, who has supported the Dream Defenders' effort from the start, downplays the extra costs in security.

"What's the cost of life worth? When you have young folks like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin who died, what's the value on their life? I will go as far as to say this: these folks right here who are sitting in the governor's office right now, they aren't protesters. They aren't occupiers, as some folks have tried to make them out to be. They are taxpaying citizens of the state of Florida that, I believe, should have the opportunity to redress their government. That's the beauty of our democracy."

The FDLE released details about security costs at the Capitol in response to inquiries from reporters. Spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said the overtime costs are estimates because the tally comes in the middle of a pay period.

Erika Maye of the Dream Defenders issued a statement saying Floridians should be concerned about how the state spends taxpayers' money.

She said Florida billed taxpayers more than $46 million for misdemeanor arrests at public schools in 2011 - 2012.

"Many of the state's 13,870 arrests of disproportionately Black and Brown youth were for noncriminal acts. Each young person who doesn't graduate because he fell behind and disengaged due to zero-tolerance school discipline policies costs the state $260,000. Ending Florida's school-to-prison pipeline would save millions in tax dollars."

Dave Heller

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