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Local Governments (Mostly) Avert Power Grab By Florida Lawmakers

Garrett Coakley/flickr
Coral Gables just voted to ban plastic bags - even though the Florida Legislature says it can't.

Local governments still have most of their powers intact -- despite efforts by lawmakers during the legislative session that ended last week in Tallahassee.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, sponsored a bill that would have stopped municipalities from creating their own rules regarding local businesses. Fine, a businessman, said he wanted to make a better business climate in Florida by having fewer regulations from town to town.

“If you’re someone who owns 10 gas stations in three counties or 20 convenience stores in five cities, dealing with a patchwork quilt of regulations can make it very hard to do it," Fine told a House committee in February.

Fine’s bill was one of several that would have helped limit what’s known as “home rule," the ability of cities and counties to make rules to accommodate their own unique communities. Fine’s bill never got a vote in the full House, thanks in part to groups like the Florida League of Cities.

“There's a bunch of different cities - 412 different cities with 412 different personalities - and a sense of what they want to be,” says Scott Dudley, the league’s legislative director. “This one size fits all approach just doesn't work at all.”

In fact, the Florida Legislature can pass laws to take away the power of municipalities to govern themselves in certain matters – even though the Florida Constitution gives local governments home rule power.

“Cities can do largely the things that we need to do in order to operate our cities unless the Legislature tells us we can't,” Dudley says. “So [lawmakers] can specifically preempt us, and they have that authority and it's constitutionally granted -- both the home rule authority and the ability for them to preempt us.”

Sound confusing? Dudley says it is, and it’s a source of endless debate in the Legislature. Take supermarket plastic bags, for example. “Those are ending up all over the beaches. They’re also ending up in the storm water systems. So some cities want to implement a plastic bag ban,” Dudley says. “We have been preempted from doing that [by the Florida Legislature], although Coral Gables just adopted [a ban], so we'll see how that all plays out.”

Dudley sees the same fights waged over preemptions every time a new legislative session convenes. “We're certain that many of these fights that didn't pass this year, they'll be back again next year.”

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