Our View: 2020 could get even worse

If, as New York attorney and politician Gideon John Tucker wrote,”no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session,” then Florida residents can breathe a sigh of relief: On May 4, the 2019 legislative session ended.

It’s good news on a larger scale as well: There will be no further assaults on local governments’ home-rule powers … until next year.

But make no mistake—they are coming.

Local governments are granted broad powers under the Florida Constitution and by statute. The Municipal Home Rule Powers Act, adopted in 1973, says this about cities:

“The provisions of this section shall be so construed as to secure for municipalities the broad exercise of home rule powers granted by the constitution. It is the further intent of the Legislature to extend to municipalities the exercise of powers for municipal governmental, corporate, or proprietary purposes not expressly prohibited by the constitution, general or special law, or county charter and to remove any limitations, judicially imposed or otherwise, on the exercise of home rule powers other than those so expressly prohibited.”

That’s a lovely sentiment but the reality for local governments, particularly over the last several years, has been the exploitation by the Legislature of “not expressly prohibited” to expressly limit, if not prohibit, local regulation of, among other things:

• guns

• fertilizer use

• ride-sharing services

• medical marijuana dispensaries

• the minimum wage

• smoking on beaches

There are bills in front of Gov. Ron DeSantis to add front-yard gardens, tree-trimming permits and cellphone towers to the list.

He’s likely to sign them, as well as a bill that conditions a county’s power to require a developer to include affordable housing in a project on providing “incentives to fully offset all costs to the developer of its affordable housing contribution.”

Bills to pre-empt local regulation of vacation rentals, plastic bags, red-light cameras, sunscreen and nicotine products failed this year, or the list would be even longer. Surely these subjects will be reintroduced for 2020.

A couple of rationales are typically used to justify placing regulatory power in Tallahassee rather than at the local level.

One is the need for uniformity of regulations and the other is the allegedly greater susceptibility of a five- or seven-member county commission or city council to special interests than the state’s 160 legislators and the governor.

We’ll concede that there’s a benefit to uniformity. But we also see one to allowing a local government, which is closer to its constituents, to set a higher standard to better serve their needs.

It seems almost like a free-market principle. If a more-restrictive local law doesn’t work or has unintended consequences, it will get changed. If it does work, it might become a model for other governments.

We don’t buy the special interest argument, though—not that special interests aren’t a factor locally, just that legislators who have re-election as a constant thought are equally if not more receptive to the influence of lobbyists and donors.

Are we actually supposed to believe that special interests aren’t behind the effort to concentrate power in the capital?

Now, we’re not taking a stance for or against the regulation of any of these items. What we’re in favor of is the Legislature abandoning the hypocrisy of complaining about being told what to do by Washington, D.C., and then subjecting its counties and cities to the same treatment.

As election season heats up, ask state House and Senate candidates what they think about pre-emption and factor what they say into your vote.

Because reversing this usurpation of power takes place, appropriately enough, on the local level.

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