Florida bill would make it easier to challenge local government laws

TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Legislation that would make it easier for Florida businesses and individuals to challenge local ordinances allowed its first test in the state Senate on Wednesday, with supporters calling it a necessary check over government brutality and opponents saying it the bill goes too far.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Senator Travis Hutson, would require cities and counties to write a “business impact study” on a proposed order and would require the stay of any order when challenged by a lawsuit under certain conditions. conditions – and if the lawsuit wins, the government will owe attorney fees.

The bill was approved by the Senate Committee on Community Affairs after a lengthy hearing that included testimony from opponents including the Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties and the League of Women Voters.

“Why do we even have a local government if we are going to allow individuals and businesses to tie their hands together?” Said Trish Neely of the League of Women Voters.

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Concerns have also been raised about the potential costs of the “business impact statement” requirement, particularly for the hundreds of small towns and villages that dot the Florida landscape.

In addition, the bill would amend a legal standard – known as “rational basis examination” – in which judges must now simply decide whether a contested order is part of a legitimate government interest. Instead, the measure would add a list of new factors for judges to consider, for example whether the order protects people’s health, well-being, safety and quality of life as well as the impact economic on businesses.

Supporters include powerful business interests such as the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. Their supporters in the Senate said the measure strengthens the accountability of local governments when they seek to impose unduly harsh or unreasonable rules.

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“They have no investment and they tell you what you can and cannot do,” said GOP Senator Dennis Baxley, funeral director by trade. “It gives businesses a voice to respond to the government’s heavy hand that can break them down. Business people are not your enemies. They are the backbone of your community. “

Senator Gary Farmer, Democrat and lawyer, called the legislation a “preemptive bill of all preemptive bills”, referring to the frequent practice of Florida lawmakers to override local policymakers and sometimes voters. on many subjects. Farmer noted that local governments are taking important steps such as regulating alcohol sales in bars, overseeing adult entertainment venues, creating affordable housing, and even restricting sales of puppy mills.

“These are important ordinances that protect people,” Farmer said. “We have to be respectful of local elected officials and the people who elect them. We are going too far with this legislation.

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Hutson, whose family runs a development company, said state lawmakers are “now the last line of defense” when local governments go too far and argue the bill would streamline and speed up challenges to decisions local. He also noted that the bill has two more committee stops before it can reach the Senate floor and that changes are possible.

“We have a long way to go,” Hutson said.

Florida’s regular legislative session that began on Tuesday continues until March 11.

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Margie D. Carlisle