Progressives condemn the state’s conservative attacks on home rule

By: - January 23, 2020 5:03 pm

FL Rep. Anna Eskamani speaks at a press conference in the Capitol held by an alliance fighting state attacks on local ordinances. Image: Facebook

Labor representatives, environmentalists, LGBTQ supporters, and others gathered in the Capitol Thursday to condemn legislative attacks on home rule that are killing progressive policies at the local level.

The preemptions are designed to overrule local government bans on single-use plastics and foam containers and so-called conversion therapy; to protect trees and coral reefs; mandate worker-friendly labor laws; and promote safe gun use within local communities.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orange County, called for a “repealathon” to turn back the wave of preemption bills that “demonize local governments” and impose the state’s will over local objections.

“The harsh reality is that corporate interests in particular within this legislative process have exploited preemption to keep profit margins high,” Eskamani said, adding that the ordinances affected are designed to enhance public health, equity, and safety. “We have to restore home rule and empower local voices to make local choices.”

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward Democrat, is sponsoring legislation to slow the pace of preemption bills by setting high bars for their adoption.

Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan policy research group, issued a report this month arguing that preemption of home rule has become rampant and is most often cracking down on policies adopted in urban, Democratic-leaning areas.

A few preemption bills that have achieved notoriety would overturn a Florida Keys ban on certain sunscreens that contain coral-killing oxybenzone and octinoxate; overturn bans on applying to minors therapy that purports to change a person’s sexual orientation; block bans on single-use plastics that pollute local waterways; and block local gun-control ordinances.

Others would preempt local regulation of rent stabilization, vacation rentals, tree-trimming, telecommunications, and minimum-wage and sick-time practices.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, also an Orange County Democrat, is cosponsoring legislation to restore local control of sick-time and minimum-wage ordinances. He said Florida conservatives are out of touch with everyday Floridians on home rule. Rep. Ben Diamond, a Democrat from Pinellas, added that they betray the GOP’s long-stated claim of favoring small government.

“We understand and we know, just like a supermajority of Floridians who have been polled on this issue time and time again, that government is most effective and most responsive where it’s closest to the people, and that is in our cities and counties,” Smith said.

“Their preemptions are so comprehensive and they mess with so many issues in the local government, sometimes the sponsors of these preemptions themselves don’t even know what they’re impacting and what they’re doing.”

“It runs counter to all these conservative principles that government closest to the people serves the people best. We have to keep reminding folks of that,” Diamond said.

“So much of these preemption bills are being driven by big industries and big special interests that just don’t want to allow us to have effective local representation and local government, and we’re fed up with it. Our constituents are fed up with it. It’s time folks serving up here start listening to those who are on the front lines of these problems and trying to address them.”

Deborah Foote, government affairs and political director with Sierra Club of Florida, said legislators also are suppressing local will by imposing the burden of all legal fees on a plaintiff who does not win, as in the case of a local person who challenges a developer over land use and loses, or a local government that unsuccessfully challenges the state.

“Citizens do not have the deep pockets that corporations do, and municipalities cannot compete with the resources of the state,” Foote said. “All of this hurts our ability to combat climate change, urban sprawl, and pollution that impacts the quality of our water.”

Also supporting the anti-preemption group Thursday were the AFL-CIO, American Heart Association, Equality Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida Latina Advocacy Network, Local Progress, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Sierra Club, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Florida Local Unions 517, 630 and 1652, and SurfRiders Foundation.

Due to an editing error, a quote by Rep. Smith in the original story was misattributed. It has been corrected.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]