Opinion: Local policymaking shouldn't get pinned under the Legislature's thumb

New legislation is designed to slow down and grind to a halt the works of local government, Jack Porter writes.

The old Capitol in Tallahassee.

The old Capitol in Tallahassee. Photo by Braunger/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The days when Florida Republicans supported limited government and championed local freedoms are long gone. Look no further than bills in the Legislature (SB 170, HB 1515) allowing businesses to sue a city every time they don’t like a policy. 

This legislation has a very specific purpose that should alarm every Floridian, regardless of political stripe: Transferring power from people and their local elected officials into the hands of the corporate elite.

This legislation is designed to slow down and grind to a halt the works of local government – the government closest and most accountable to the people. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a similar bill last year, but that doesn’t seem to have deterred the armies of corporate lobbyists from making another run at our local freedoms.

Let’s be clear about what these bills really do: Encourage businesses to use lawsuits as a way to slow or stop legislation from passing. SB 170 would give businesses the power to file lawsuits simply for the purpose of stalling the effect of, or overturning, properly passed local ordinances. 

The types of local policies that could be eradicated because of this legislation include noise ordinances, parking regulations, and food safety permits. Policies designed to protect the health, prosperity, and safety of local communities – out the door because they conflict with a business’ quest to grow its bottom line.

Animal welfare and environmental policies could become targets for costly litigation, too – like puppy mill regulations and policies meant to protect sea turtles.

This legislation could force our cities and counties to cease legislating, be chilled into submission – and even go into bankruptcy to defend policies supported by local taxpayers. And that’s exactly what the corporate lobbyists and lawmakers behind this legislation want – to erode local freedoms and maximize business profits.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, who developed the idea for this legislation, confirmed as much. She declared last week that she is “sick and tired of us having to preempt when a local government passes an ordinance that’s unreasonable. I call it stupid.”

I don’t believe that local policy making is stupid. I believe it’s the bedrock of our democracy, and I think many Floridians agree with me. Many of us understand that the communities across our incredible state are all unique and have different needs.

Our elected state lawmakers should be fighting to ensure that their local counterparts are empowered and have the resources necessary to ensure we can make the best possible decision for the communities we represent.

Unfortunately, this trend of Republicans embracing big government isn’t unique to Florida. Over the last decade, legislatures across the country have moved against their own local communities, taking power away from the people and putting it in corporate boardrooms.

As a result of this abusive interference, we’ve seen local policies undermined on issues ranging from rent stabilization to paid sick leave, minimum wage to environmental measures, and control of local budgets.

It's time for us to defend our local freedoms from this latest attempt to transfer power from the people to the boardroom. We know what’s best for our communities, not some lawmaker from another part of the state, and certainly not a corporate lobbyist flown in from somewhere else.

It’s time for our state legislators to focus on strengthening our communities, not weakening them.

Jack Porter serves as a Tallahassee city commissioner and is a member of Local Progress, a movement of local elected officials advancing a racial and economic justice agenda through all levels of local government. Views expressed are those of the author and not of the City & State Florida editorial staff.

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