On Monday, a Leon County district judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Sen. Jason Pizzo challenging the use of state funds for transporting migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, but advised how to revise the legal complaint so the case could move forward.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration in September paid for charter flights from San Antonio to an enclave on the island to resettle about 50 migrants, mostly Venezuelans, who crossed into the United States from the Mexican border.

The North Miami Beach Democrat, who is a former prosecutor, quickly sued, claiming DeSantis’ actions violated the state Constitution and a separate law.

Lawyers for DeSantis and the Florida Department of Transportation asked U.S. District Judge John Cooper to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Pizzo did not have standing to proceed and that he had not shown the relocation program was illegal.

During Monday’s hearing, Cooper ruled that Pizza had standing, relying in part on a 1972 Florida Supreme Court case involving state senators who challenged the so-called wording of clauses in the budget.

But the judge said that Pizza’s lawsuit needs to be refined.

“I’m going to dismiss the complaint with leave to amend because I want the plaintiffs to argue or set forth in the complaint some additional facts and clarity similar to what I heard today and similar to what’s in the answer, but I I don’t think that’s in the complaint,” Cooper said.

The Sept. 14 flights drew international attention and prompted a potential class-action lawsuit in Massachusetts federal court against DeSantis, Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue and people who helped recruit immigrants in Texas.

DeSantis, considered by many to be a potential 2024 GOP presidential nominee, has argued that undocumented immigrants could pose a threat to Florida and has blasted “sanctuary” communities like Martha’s Vineyard.

Pizzo’s challenge centers on $12 million that lawmakers appropriated in this year’s budget on DeSantis’ behalf to go to the Florida Department of Transportation “to implement a program to facilitate the transportation of unauthorized aliens from this state pursuant to federal law.” The budget line also states that “the department may, after receiving at least two proposals, negotiate and enter into contracts with private entities, including common carriers, to implement the program.”

The Department of Transportation paid $1.565 million to Vertol Systems Company, Inc. for the two flights to Martha’s Vineyard and for possible additional flights of migrants to “sanctuary.”

But Pizzo’s lawsuit questioned the constitutionality of the immigrant resettlement program, which was never vetted by a legislative committee but appeared in the budget negotiated by House and Senate leaders.

The Florida Constitution says that “laws making appropriations for the salaries of public servants and other current expenses of the state shall not contain provisions for other matters.” Pizza’s lawsuit argued that “substantial” policies should be approved through separate laws, not through the budget.

Pizzo’s lawsuit also alleged that, even if the budget line did not violate the constitutional requirement, DeSantis misused the money by spending it to transport migrants who had only briefly landed in Florida.

After taking off in San Antonio, the flights made a brief stop at the airport in the northwest Florida community of Crestview before heading north to Martha’s Vineyard. The lawsuit also alleged that the DeSantis administration did not seek applications for the flights.

But Cooper said Monday that Pizza’s lawsuit needs to be more specific.

“I would like the complaint to be divided essentially into two counts,” the judge said. “The first point is an argument about the constitutionality . . . and the defendants’ “judicial capacity” issues.”

Cooper suggested the second point would focus on whether the DeSantis administration violated the budget line by “not getting a second bid and other things.”

Cooper also advised Pizzo’s attorney, Mark Herron, to explain why DeSantis is a “proper defendant” in the lawsuit.

“I think there should be more specific allegations that the governor had something to do with it,” Cooper said.

Nicholas Meras, DeSantis’ deputy general counsel, argued Monday that Pizzo failed to demonstrate the need for the injunction he is seeking.

“Plaintiffs must show and must specifically allege and demonstrate their right to relief,” Meras said. “He would have to show a bona fide, practical need for it. … It must be unique and specific to the claimant. It cannot be a general need or declaration.’

But Cooper read a lengthy excerpt from a 1972 court ruling that found lawmakers, as “ordinary citizens and taxpayers,” have the right to sue the state without showing that they suffered direct harm.

The ruling warned that new agencies or projects could be created under the guise of “appropriations” without “significant independent review” by the legislature.

“It can also be a subtle ’empire-building’ approach by the government. In such cases, the evil does not end with the financial year in which such agency is first created. After establishment, subsequent appropriations may be made to him, and thus an agency without legitimate birth perpetuated. Such indirect enactment of the law is contrary to our principles of representative government,” Cooper read, quoting the ruling.

Speaking to reporters after Monday’s hearing, which was also attended by Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, Pizzo said he was relieved Cooper allowed him to sue.

“We’re very pleased that we’ve addressed an ongoing issue that I think internally may have been a source of concern,” he said. “We walk out of here just knowing that we have to show our work, show our answers.”

Pizzo also said lawmakers this year, at DeSantis’ direction, passed legislation to crack down on trucking companies that bring undocumented immigrants into the state. He suggested that a stopover in Florida after departing from Texas might have violated that law.

“They have to choose a side. It must be said that there were no unauthorized foreigners. They were just people, asylum seekers who sign a release form for a free trip to Martha’s Vineyard, or they have to say they’re unauthorized aliens, in which case, this year it specifically says you can’t to do this. You don’t hire a common carrier,” he said. “And what is this, 32 thousand dollars per person? I think Expedia has flights for $458 from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard.”

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