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Florida cities battle to control their destinies

Everything from tree-trimming to vacation rentals to urban redevelopment is going to be up for grabs in the 2018 legislative session.

Although the legislative session doesn't start until Tuesday, a group representing Florida cities was already gearing up to fight a slew of  bills that would erode local powers on a range of issues from election calendars to tree ordinances.

Representatives from the Florida League of Cities told reporters Monday that preventing bills from preempting local powers was a "super-priority" for this session, which lasts two months. The group has battled in recent years against legislation that takes home rule powers and gives them to the state.

"Cities have taken the lead on a number of issues: the opioid crisis, internet gambling cafes, just a whole host of issues … and we waited for the legislature to take action," said Scott Dudley, lobbyist for the group. "In the last couple of years there seems to be an urge by the Legislature to take over that ability to solve local problems locally."

Although not mentioned by name during the meeting, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been leading the Legislature's recent efforts to further regulate the way cities can spend their funds, which he said will create greater transparency and accountability.

Corcoran denied having an ideologically-driven agenda to punish cities and counties.

"Do I like local government? Yes. Do I want to see local government thrive? Yes," Corcoran told the Times/Herald. "There's a constitution. Rule of law matters."

Corcoran insists that any local government home rule power is derived from the state. League of Cities lobbyist Scott Dudley said the Florida Constitution, approved by voters in 1968, granted expansive home rule powers to cities and counties.

Bills that the League of Cities has identified as intrusive include a proposal that would require state legislative approval for cities to create new community redevelopment agencies (CRAs) designed to encourage new development in ostensibly blighted urban areas, as well as bills that restrict local ability to regulate vacation rentals like Airbnb.