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Pasco becomes the latest victim of lawmakers’ attack on local priorities | Editorial
Republicans used to support home rule. Now they routinely preempt local rules and ordinances.
 
A leasing sign is seen at Parc at Wesley Chapel apartment complex in 2021.
A leasing sign is seen at Parc at Wesley Chapel apartment complex in 2021. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published July 24, 2023

Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature can’t stop undermining home rule — the concept that the government closest to the people is generally the best government. It’s something Thomas Jefferson supported, as did most Republicans lawmakers in Tallahassee until the last decade or so. Now home rule is something too many of them pay lip service to while undermining it again and again.

From tree ordinances to rent control to gun restrictions, the Legislature is making it harder for local governments to set their own rules and regulations. Lawmakers have overturned three citizen referendums in Key West that approved limiting the number of cruise ships and passengers in the city. They have stopped local laws on fertilizer use and single-use plastics in several cities and have targeted efforts anywhere to regulate guns. Now comes a new example, this one involving Pasco County.

Pasco officials want to grow jobs in their own county. They are fighting home and apartment builders who are seeking to grab land that officials had already designated for business and industries. Unfortunately, the Legislature has made that much more difficult by preempting the county’s plans, siding instead with the powerful development interests that routinely contribute money to — you guessed it — Republican legislators.

This isn’t some culture war spat between right-wing lawmakers and the more liberal politicians who run most of Florida’s urban areas. This is Pasco, a fairly conservative area where all five county commissioners are Republicans and which has voted Republican in the last five presidential elections. In other words, no local government is safe from the bullies in Tallahassee.

Their assault on home rule runs counter to the historical intent of Florida citizens, who more than a half-century ago voted to enshrine the concept in the Florida Constitution. In doing so, they gave local governments the power to establish regulations and ordinances, protect public health and safety and to tax — as long as the actions are consistent with state and federal laws.

In Pasco, the problem is a new state law dubbed Live Local, which allows developers to convert land now zoned for commercial, industrial and mixed uses into apartments as long as 40% are designated for affordable housing. The law also offers developers generous property tax exemptions even as it forbids local governments from enacting any form of rent control.

But Pasco already has plenty of housing and has been trying for years to shed its reputation as a bedroom community. Leaders there rightly worry about the growing strain on government services, including law enforcement and fire rescue. They want to ensure there is enough room to grow commercial and industrial businesses. Ironically, Pasco residents won’t be able to “Live Local” if they have to commute to other counties to find good jobs. Earlier this month, Pasco commissioners agreed that one of their top priorities in the next legislative session will be to secure an exemption from the Live Local law.

Florida isn’t unique in its abuse of preemption. States with Republican majorities have embraced the tactic with a vengeance. The National League of Cities estimates more than 500 preemptive laws were proposed this year in legislatures across the U.S. But there’s something particularly disturbing going on in Tallahassee, where the Republican majority is increasingly turning to preemption to secure political advantage.

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To be clear, preemption isn’t always bad. Local governments are sometimes guilty of exceeding their authority. And to his credit, Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed several preemption bills. But don’t expect the power grabs to end anytime soon. That’s the way Tallahassee Republicans do business these days — eroding good government measures whenever it’s to their advantage.

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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.