Florida’s nanny-state Legislature | Editorial
Lawmakers should stick to state issues and leave local governments to do their jobs.
Gov. Ron DeSantis greets lawmakers as he walks into the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee at the opening of Legislature's annual session March 2.
Gov. Ron DeSantis greets lawmakers as he walks into the House chamber at the Capitol in Tallahassee at the opening of Legislature's annual session March 2. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published March 29, 2021|Updated March 29, 2021

Florida’s interstate highways, its public schools, the health of the Everglades — these are clearly state concerns. But the Legislature has no business micro-managing city budgets, governing who can prune a tree or dictating who can work from home or rent a condo at the beach. Yet state lawmakers have spared no appetite for subverting local control. True conservatives need to remind the Republican-led Legislature that the government closest to the people serves them the best.

As Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported this week, the Legislature is considering a growing list of bills aimed at preempting local authority. The measures would give Tallahassee control of a host of local matters, from determining the size of city police budgets to regulating everything from vacation rentals and home businesses to clean-energy plans and locally-funded apprenticeship programs. As Klas reports, Florida’s campaign finance laws make it easier for industries to centralize their lobbying in Tallahassee, where special interests can stop local regulations in their tracks instead of having to lobby dozens of counties and hundreds of cities across the state.

But this one-size-fits-all approach hardly works in a state where Miami, Palatka, Plant City and Dunedin have wildly varying geographies, economies, populations and interests. And the disregard for local government seems to increase every year, and on issues with little statewide impact. “The overlying thing to me is these guys in Tallahassee seem to think they know better than the locals,” said Bill Queen, mayor of North Redington Beach. He is especially concerned about a bill that would further restrict local governments’ ability to regulate vacation rentals — legislation that would have major impacts on this gulf-side town of 1,200, but virtually none in most rural areas of the state.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the Senate Rules chair, said she supports many preemption proposals because cities and counties were formed after the Legislature. “They do a great job, a lot of them,” she said. “But a lot of them want us to do the hard work. They don’t want to be unpopular, so they want us to take the responsibility.”

The hard work? The responsibility? It was local governments, not the Legislature, that moved to protect public health when the pandemic broke. It was local governments, not the Legislature, that first addressed the chaos when ride-sharing companies like Uber and home-sharing entities like Airbnb started to upend established industries and neighborhoods. It was local governments that pooled together to take action on climate change when lawmakers wouldn’t even utter the phrase. This is nothing but a power grab masquerading as parenting, and it’s leaving local governments increasingly unable to address their unique problems.

There are times when a statewide rule makes sense, such as in standardizing construction codes, or regulating inter-county trade, where a patchwork of local regulations would make business impossible. But often lawmakers use preemption as a tool to halt progressive local policies, or to keep them from spreading from city to city.

Legislators may be meeting in Tallahassee, but they need to hear from local constituents. And Gov. Ron DeSantis certainly holds a key. Though his record on preemption is uneven, DeSantis has signaled that he supports the ability of local governments to regulate vacation rentals, which have wildly varying impacts across the state. “We have 22 million people, almost,” DeSantis said last year, when the issue arose. “We are a very diverse state. For us to be micromanaging vacation rentals, I am not sure that is the right thing to do.”

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DeSantis’ logic applies to more than vacation rentals. If legislators want to tackle local issues, come home and run for city council.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.