Legislature mounts new attack on home rule

The following editorial appeared in The Daily Sun on Jan 15, 2022.

OUR POSITION: The Florida Legislature is at it again — trying to rob counties and cities of home rule.

The 2022 legislative session was just getting started when Republicans introduced two Senate bills that once again attack home rule for county and city governments. There seems to be no end to the relentless power grab by Tallahassee.

This time, the Senate Community Affairs Committee voted 7-2, along party lines, to require counties and cities to do a business impact statement before they pass any ordinance or suspend the enforcement of any ordinance. We know of no other state in the nation that requires such bureaucratic nonsense.

Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, was the sponsor of the proposal to supposedly protect businesses. It would eventually eliminate preemption bills that have been hammered with criticism during the pandemic. The Legislature believes the authority of local governments needs to be further reined in.

The goal of the bill would be for local businesses to know how much they will be impacted by an ordinance — such as social distancing for the COVID or outdoor-only dining for example. SB 620 says businesses could sue local government if the ordinance causes them to lose 15% of revenues or profits.

We question if whoever thought up this bill had any idea how to enforce it. How do you decide if a business is losing 15% of its profits? Do you base that on income last year, last month, before the pandemic two years ago? What model works fairly? And how do you determine if the ordinance is purely the cause or if the fact rats were found in the kitchen may have something to do with a falling off of customers?

Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said the Republican proposal is a “trial lawyer’s dream,” in a News Service of Florida story.

It could usher in a host of lawsuits, some merely to harass local governments and some in a long-shot attempt to get money for a business that could possibly have been in financial straits for months.

It’s all just another example of Republicans attacking home rule and seeking to seize more power for state government over cities and counties.

It follows past aggressive moves like ruling how much counties could raise impact fees on new construction.

And, this past fall, Joe Gruters, chairman of the Florida Republican Party who represents Sarasota and Charlotte counties in the state Senate, filed a bill to place a constitutional amendment regarding recalls on the November 2022 general election ballot.

That bill would place more county officials in line to be recalled by the public if anyone decides they do not agree with their performance. Right now, state law regarding the recall of local elected officials applies to only 22 counties with a charter form of government — both Charlotte and Sarasota counties have charters.

The proposed new law would put the fate of not only locally elected commissioners in jeopardy but also constitutional officers like the sheriff and supervisor of elections.

Then, you may recall, lawmakers overruled the town of Key West’s ordinance to restrict the docking of cruise ships. Voters in the city overwhelmingly approved a law to curtail the frequent visits by the huge ships they charged were damaging their waterfront.

We’re not sure if this movement to limit the power of local governments will end any time soon. But we hope local governments, most of them run by Republican majorities, have the courage to stand firm against the aggression.