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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Pre-emption makes its unwelcome return

The Florida Legislature's dreaded annual tradition of hamstringing local governments is well under way. From prohibiting local bans on plastic straws to preventing any new business regulation by a city or county, state lawmakers are filing bills intended to prevent local control, even on the most local of issues. Every community in Florida has different needs, problems and priorities, and Tallahassee has no business unfairly restricting cities' and counties' ability to govern themselves.

Last year, local tree ordinances were targeted. Every year, regulating vacation rentals is branded "government overreach." This year, one of the targets is any ban on plastic straws. After St. Petersburg passed a ban on plastic straws at cafes and restaurants, which will be phased in, a bill has been filed to stop local governments from passing any future restrictions on straws. It's not that the Legislature doesn't have major, pressing issues of statewide concern to address. It's that it can't resist meddling in local affairs.

While the ban on straw bans is catchy, other proposed measures pose a more consequential threat to local control and citizens' ability to seek recourse. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, filed a bill, SB 1040, that would increase the burdens on county governments, school boards and petition groups seeking to pass local referendums. There's nothing wrong with the current petition process, which provides reasonable ballot access, and it doesn't need to be "fixed" by lawmakers.

An even broader measure, HB 3, would force cities to seek legislative approval for new laws affecting businesses. Any new local ordinance would have to meet a litany of unnecessary requirements to be enacted, and after all that hoop-jumping, would have to expire after two years. This is nothing but micromanaging by the state that would severely inhibit how communities can regulate businesses on parking requirements, fees and permits, operating hours and countless other matters that affect quality of life in a community. Residents would be left hanging too. If a business opens up and creates a nuisance, don't bother complaining to the city council or county commission. You would have to take your beef to Tallahassee and try to get the 160 members of the Legislature to care. If a business owner is fighting unfair practices by a competitor, only the state could provide a remedy. Where's the efficiency in that?

Pre-emption bills fundamentally violate the principle of home rule, which Florida voters added to the state Constitution in 1968. Home rule grants local governments broad authority to act on most issues unless specifically prohibited by state law, instead of having to get permission from the state. Yet that's exactly what is required by the bill filed by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa.

The fight to protect home rule has become an annual one, as new bills are continually filed to restrict how local governments can best serve individual communities. Pre-emption takes a one-size-fits-all approach to a state that is too big and diverse and evolving to operate by top-down edicts.