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Some Wonder If Capitol Protest Is Worth The Cost

It’s been nearly two weeks since anti-Stand Your Ground law protesters began occupying Florida Governor Rick Scott’s outer office demanding he call a special session. This week, capitol police divulged what it’s costing taxpayers to let the group stay. Now, some are asking if they’ve overstayed their welcome.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says it’s had to double the security detail at the capitol. Many officers are working 12-hour shifts and the overtime is racking up. Still, FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger explained since the protesters aren’t violating laws, officials can’t boot them from the governor’s office.

“It’s not uncommon to have protesters at the capitol, particularly during the legislative session. What’s different about this one is the amount of time they have stayed. For us as law enforcement, our options really are limited. They’re following the laws,” Plessinger noted.

FDLE says since the protests started, the state has spent more than $150,000 to secure the capitol – and that number rises by the day. However, that figure includes some routine expenses which would have been incurred whether there were protesters occupying the governor’s office or not. Plessinger said overtime alone has cost in excess of $50,000.

As the protestors have come and gone, extra security has waved them through metal detectors at entrances to the capitol and stood by to make sure the protest stayed friendly. 

Still, many Democratic lawmakers, including Tallahassee State Representative Alan Williams, have contended it’s money well spent.

“What’s the cost of life worth? And when you have young folks like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin who died, what’s the value on their life? These folks that are sitting in the governor’s office right now, they are tax paying citizens of the state of Florida,” Williams argued.

Those calculations interest University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus. She finds the protestors reminiscent of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“They did wear out their welcome in certain cities which had to pay for overtime for police, particularly big cities in the North East, like New York and whatever. But, the point that they – that’s to be made is that even though they sort of wore out their welcome, their ideas ended up being part of the Democratic Party platform,” MacManus pointed out.

Stand Your Ground discussions could increase Democratic voter turnout in 2014. But MacManus thinks Republicans could have an equal chance to galvanize their base when the public learns what the protest is costing taxpayers.

“..and so I think that pointing out the cost of  this does get Republicans and the Tea Party and fiscal conservatives listening and watching to see whether this continues to escalate,” MacManus said.

Not everyone is thinking about the extra costs in political terms. Robert Weissert, Vice President for Research at Florida TaxWatch, a state spending watchdog group, said people should be focusing on why the state can’t offer a concrete accounting of money spent.

“The state’s accounting system is quite antiquated. Any private business that’s running overtime because of a specific incident should be able to tell you within incredible – fast and accurately the amount of money they’re expending because of a specific incident. But, the fact that the state is not able to is not a reflection on the individual agencies but a reflection of the state’s overall accounting system,” Weissert explained.

Weissert is sure the state could provide the same level of security without spending as much on overtime pay by updating its accounting system. He also says out of a $74-billion budget, an additional $50,000  presents a pretty insignificant cost to taxpayers.