GOP lawmakers in Tallahassee have for years taken away ever more power from local governments and “preempted” that power to the state on a variety of issues.
Legislation passed by the Florida House on Wednesday continues in that direction by making it easier for businesses and citizens to gut local ordinances. The proposal (HB 1515) would allow a court of law to award up to $50,000 in attorney fees to a plaintiff if the court rules that an ordinance is “arbitrary or unreasonable.”
The legislation requires a city or county to suspend any ordinance pending a ruling by the court.
The bill also requires local governments to prepare a “business impact estimate” before adopting any ordinance. That document must include a summary of the ordinance, an estimate of its direct economic impact on private, for-profit businesses in the city or county’s jurisdiction, and other possible costs that businesses may incur if the ordinance is approved.
The measure is sponsored by Republican Robert Brackett, who represents Indian River and part of Brevard counties and is the former mayor of Vero Beach. He insisted that he would never advocate for any legislation that hurt local governments.
“But just because we were locally elected officials does not give us the right to impose onerous ordinances on other people,” he said, insisting that his bill doesn’t preempt anything. “It allows the stakeholders of that community a vehicle to take action and stand against local governments that go too far.”
Broward County Democrat Hillary Cassel said the bill was one of a line of proposals designed to “crush” local governments — adding that the one-way attorney fee provision would incentivize the frivolous litigation that the Legislature frequently criticizes.
South Florida Democrat Felicia Robinson said the measure was “disrespectful” to locally elected officials, noting that taxpayers ultimately would pay the attorney fees.
“I hope that Floridians are paying attention that we are up here passing this piece of legislation that ultimately is going to affect you at home,” she said.
Some of the state’s biggest business interests, including the Florida Retail Federation, Associated Industries of Florida, and the Florida Realtors Association, support the legislation.
The bill contains exemptions, however, such as for emergency ordinances.
The Senate passed its version of the bill (SB 1170), 29-11, in the first full week of the session. However, that bill differs from the House version so the Senate will vote on it again before it makes it to the governor’s desk.
The governor vetoed a similar bill passed during last year’s legislative session. However, Panhandle-area Republican Jay Trumbull, Senate sponsor of this year’s bill, and has said that this version differs from the one the governor rejected.
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