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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Kill this proposed amendment that would hamstring local governments in Florida

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, introduced Proposal 95 at the Constitution Revision Commission. [Times files]
Published Jan. 25, 2018

Trampling on the power of cities and counties to govern themselves is trendy in Tallahassee these days. But a proposal before the powerful Constitution Revision Commission would make pre-emption much more than a passing craze and permanently hinder local governments' ability to sensibly regulate businesses. Home rule is a sacred principle in the state Constitution, but it's under assault in Tallahassee and Floridians should resist wrongheaded attempts to chip away at it.

Proposal 95, offered by state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, says cities and counties may only regulate "commerce, trade, or labor occurring exclusively within the respective entity's own boundaries," and regulations must not "intrude upon or impede commerce, trade, or labor across the respective entity's boundaries." The language is vague enough to be utterly confusing and broad enough to be dangerous.

By limiting local governments to regulating only businesses within their boundaries, the proposal undercuts their ability to regulate at all. That's particularly pertinent in Pinellas County with its two dozen municipalities. For example, a roofing company based in Pinellas Park that does work in Largo or St. Petersburg or Clearwater wouldn't be subject to any of those cities' regulations, such as a minimum wage ordinance or licensing requirements. Retailers that ship via online sales and companies that are based out of state but operate in Florida, such as developers, would all be above local regulation. And for those truly local businesses that would remain subject to local rules, this proposal is fundamentally unfair.

In a sense, all regulations have the potential to "impede commerce," but that doesn't make them unsound. Rules that prevent factories from dumping pollutants into lakes are costly, but they protect natural resources and residents' health. Zoning restrictions that say fast food joints can't open up shop in the middle of neighborhoods could, in theory, impede the commercial interests of restaurant operators. But they also safeguard property values and quality of life. Under this proposal, those considerations have no merit.

Local government advocates fear that every dispute would have to be settled by the courts, which is a terrible way to govern. Proposal 95, because it's so broad, essentially gives anyone standing to sue. And there could be endless interpretations of what constitutes an intrusion on commerce. Even if the Legislature wanted to make cities and counties seek permission to set regulations on what should be local concerns, this amendment doesn't give it that authority. That leaves statewide laws as the only avenue, and does anyone really think St. Pete Beach has the same needs and concerns as Ocala?

Lee was appointed to the CRC by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has made no secret of his desire to handcuff cities and counties based on the belief that power resides with the state government. The Legislature is again toying with the ability of local governments to meet the specific needs of their constituents with several pre-emption bills. But this proposal is more consequential because it could end up in the state Constitution. If approved by the Local Government committee when it meets Friday, the measure would then go to the full CRC, which could put it before voters in November.

It should absolutely not get to the ballot. Hamstringing the ability of city councils and county commissions to regulate business in their communities is foolish and shortsighted. It's also an egregious example of agenda-driven politics intruding on the momentous work of amending the state Constitution. Proposal 95 would be bad for Florida and should be stopped in its tracks.

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