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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and 90.7 WMFE.

Local governments can be sued over ordinances that hurt businesses under a newly approved bill

Exterior of Tallahassee City Hall
Craig Moore
/
WFSU Public Media
Exterior of Tallahassee City Hall

Local governments will have fewer options when it comes to imposing regulations. Florida lawmakers are making it easier for businesses to sue municipalities over ordinances that have adverse impacts on their companies. But Democrats worry the measure is an overreach and could hurt local governments' abilities to respond to the everyday concerns of their residents.

“The government closest to the people serves the people best.” The quote is usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson. It’s the argument made by Democrats against a state legislative measure that would hinder the ability of local governments to craft ordinances. So, what happened to the idea of local control? asked Miami Democratic Representative Ashley Gantt.

“We’re talking about ordinances that respond to the needs of the community. These are efforts—time, energy, conversations, hearings—that are given by our local officials. And this bill essentially says, ‘yeah, we don’t trust you to do that," Gantt argued on the House floor during debate on the bill.

For years, the Republican-dominated legislature has been chipping away at local ordinances through a powerful tool known as preemption—the passage of laws that override local ordinances on everything from guns, plastic straws, fertilizers, even sunscreen. Now, this year’s preemption bill is aimed at curbing anything that could threaten a local business—a move critics have dubbed “super-preemption.” Orlando Democrat Anna Eskamani raised concerns about the fate of LGBTQ-plus, environmental, and even wage protections at the local level.

“Local governments don’t have a lot of tools anymore, we’ve taken away a lot of their tools. This feels like a Darth Vadar-like grip to seize whatever last opportunity local government have to represent their communities take action for their communities and solve some of these really wicked problems," she said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a similar bill last year amid concerns raised by cities and counties who said they could spend millions fighting off frivolous lawsuits. This year’s measure would put an ordinance on hold if challenged. Plaintiffs could receive up to $50,000 in attorney’s fees if their lawsuits are successful.

“Just because we are local officials doesn’t give us the right to impose onerous ordinances on other people," said Rep. Rob Brackett, R-Vero Beach, the bill's sponsor.

Brackett has been in local government before and is a former mayor. He argues the plan doesn’t stop those governments from meeting their residents’ needs—it’s just a balance against abuse of power.

“This bill does not preempt anything. It does not violate home rule. What it does is allows the stakeholders of that community to take action and stand against local governments that go too far," he said.

Lawmakers have now sent the bill to DeSantis, who will have final say over whether it becomes law, or gets vetoed for a second time.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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