Florida Reps. Waltz, Murphy Seek to Double Offshore Customs Reach

Florida Reps. Waltz, Murphy Seek to Double Offshore Customs Reach mike waltz speaks at press conference outside capitol Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill with members of The American Legion on June 16, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Wednesday, 03 November 2021 01:35 PM

Two Florida lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday seeking to double the zone defining law enforcement reach into U.S. waters.

Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) currently operates its air and marine operations to 12 nautical miles from shore. Reps. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., and Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., are trying to expand that area to 24 nautical miles, Florida Politics reported.

Although the Coast Guard can operate 24 nautical miles out, Customs enforcement presently cannot.

The lawmakers said the bill would increase detection and interdiction of illegal cargoes off of Florida’s shores.

"Right now, a real issue is that through radar and other types of surveillance assets we have, we know we are intercepting just a fraction of what we see coming in," Waltz told Florida Politics. "With this bill, we wouldn't spend another dime, but we would create efficiencies."

Murphy tweeted a paragraph from the Florida Politics story saying that the "Coast Guard only intercepts a tenth of the criminal activity it spots in waters off Florida’s coast."

Florida Politics reported that Sen. Rick Scott, a R-Fla., will introduce bipartisan Senate legislation with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

"This bipartisan, bicameral bill will enhance the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to conduct their critical missions in the waters around Florida," Murphy told Florida Politics. "By giving these agencies the authority they need to deter or punish drug traffickers and human traffickers, we will strengthen the safety of our communities."

Aerial intelligence indicates the Coast Guard’s Southern Command only intercept approximately 10% of suspicious boating activity. Criminals who remain far enough off shore aren’t pursued.

CBP data reported that authorities seized twice as much fentanyl in 2021 than the previous year.

"Our shores are vulnerable in many ways, whether it's drugs, fentanyl, or human trafficking," Waltz told Florida Politics. "We need to give our law enforcement the maximum authority we can."

On his website, Waltz added: "Illegal smuggling of drugs, cash, guns and human trafficking victims into our country from maritime vessels continues to grow. With limited resources, we must ensure the U.S. Coast Guard and CBP AMO have the proper authority and jurisdiction to effectively protect Florida’s waters."

Waltz, whose website posted a release on the bill, told Florida Politics it made sense to work with Murphy because this issue impacts all Florida communities.

Executive orders previously have expanded Customs officials' reach temporarily.