Focus on the Legislature
By Karson Turner/ Florida Association of Counties (FAC) President and a Hendry County Commissioner
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks—or, so they say. Conversely, I was taught—and teach my children—you’re never too old to learn. This rule applies to dogs, cats and people—even Florida lawmakers.
Nevertheless, some Tallahassee politicians refuse to learn. Florida’s legislature is about to begin a new session, but we’re already seeing the same old tricks. It’s disappointing, unsurprising and just plain bad for Florida’s local communities.
Proposed House Bills (HB) 3 and 5 are a reckless assault on towns and taxpayers. At best, they prevent Florida’s towns and taxpayers from making their own decisions about matters as basic as taxes or certifying contractors. It even prevents local communities from creating laws that govern any kind of business—from gas stations and liquor stores to strip clubs and pot shops. At worst, they leave our communities at the mercy of distant bureaucrats when it comes to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. That’s the job of local governments and state officials should let them do it.
But by far the greatest assault on local decision-making lies in HB 3, which states that certain regulations will “… expire & may only be readopted or continue to be imposed after meeting specified criteria.” In other words, Tallahassee politicians don’t just want to take away a town’s right to set its own laws, they also want to reserve the right to erase laws a town has already written.
“Home Rule” operates on the principle that the government closest to the people governs best. This is a foundational idea in America. Still, it needs protection. States began writing provisions for Home Rule in the early 1900s. Florida adopted a Home Rule provision during the 1968 Constitution Revision Commission and strengthened it in 1973 with the Municipal Home Rule Powers Act.
Ever since, Florida has demonstrated the ability to nurture its own diversity and allow local communities the flexibility to deal with local issues in their own way. One of Florida’s greatest assets is its variety. There’s a world of difference between Miami and Pensacola and that’s a good thing. This was the Founding Fathers’ vision—and, thanks to Home Rule, Florida’s been remarkably adept at living it out.
But while Tallahassee politicians complain about Washington’s overreach, they often find an excuse to bigfoot Florida’s local communities. Two years ago, they proposed HB 17, which, like HB 3, was a top-down solution that would’ve banned local communities from passing their own laws. More recently, Tallahassee politicians assaulted Home Rule on the 2018 Ballot via Amendment 1, which would’ve forced local communities to decide between cutting vital services or raising property taxes.
New legislative session, same old tricks. Respecting Home Rule may be new to Tallahassee politicians, but Home Rule isn’t new to Florida or the United States. It’s an old principle that the legislature should learn. Localizing power is consistent with our founding principles, essential to peaceful democracy and consistently popular among voters. Let’s protect local decision-making by rejecting HB’s 3 and 5.