Advocates in FL and around the country are bracing for further erosion of local powers in 2023

The FL Legislature has already passed dozens of so-called ‘preemption’ bills that usurp local governments

By: - January 12, 2023 4:37 pm

Homeless woman. Credit: YouTube.

With the 2023 Florida legislative session less than two months away, supporters of local government control fear that state lawmakers could pass a measure to get rid of an Orange County rent stabilization ordinance during the continuing housing crisis in central Florida.

The ordinance came out of a referendum in November, which voters approved, but it has been stalled by litigation.

But Ida Eskamani, the senior director of legislative affairs with the State Innovation Exchange, an advocacy group, said Thursday that Floridians can expect developers, private equity firms and multinational corporations “to introduce preemption legislation to stop Orange County and any other county from passing this commonsense consumer protection rent stabilization as well as undermining other popular local rental protections that have been passing throughout this year.”

State preemption is generally defined as precluding a local government from exercising authority in a particular area, and such bills have proliferated over the past decade from the GOP-controlled Legislature, frustrating citizens and local government officials from both sides of the political aisle.

Referring to the issue of short-term vacation rentals while addressing the Pinellas County legislative delegation in Clearwater on Wednesday, Redington Beach Mayor David Will, a Republican, said that “as a result of this special interest driven preemption, the Legislature has stripped the ability to limit the corporate takeover of their neighborhoods. It has always been the responsibility of local government with local citizen input to decide the direction, the look, the appeal and the character of their city.”

Some critics breathed a sigh of relief last year when a bill dubbed as “the mother of all preemptions” (SB 620) – which would have allowed businesses to sue cities and counties to recoup lost profits – was vetoed in the summer by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In his letter vetoing that legislation, DeSantis wrote, “the broad and ambiguous language of this bill will lead to both unintended and unforeseen consequences and costly litigation.”

“The last session advocates for local freedom proved that when everyday people organize and when we expose corporate greed we can win,” said Eskamani about the governor’s veto, on a Zoom conference call organized by the Local Solutions Support Center (LSSC). The organization describes itself as “a national hub that coordinates and creates efforts to counter the abuse of preemption and strengthen local democracy.” (Eskamani is the sister of Orlando-area Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani).

In the case of SB 620, Ida Eskamani says that if had passed it would have allowed corporations to sue local governments over issues like local wage protections, housing protections, LGBTQ protections “and even local laws protecting puppies and sea turtles and dark skies.” (Critics said it would make it harder for citizens to ask local governments to pursue updates to outdated lighting ordinances).

Preemption battles are hardly unique to the Sunshine State. According to the Local Solutions Support Center, there were four specific trends in preemption bills across the country in 2022 that are expected to continue this year.

1-School curriculums

Since 2020, 46 states have proposed 274 laws targeting different aspects of curricular preemption, says Marissa Roy, a staff attorney with the Public Rights Project, of the Local Solutions Support Center.

2- Prosecutorial discretion

Since 2016 16 states have proposed 28 bills targeting local prosecutors who have declined certain offensive, a reaction Roy says to the recent rash of progressive prosecutors standing up to certain laws.

No such law has been pushed in Florida, yet, though Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren last August, accusing him of nullifying state laws by refusing to enforce criminal penalties against doctors providing abortions or gender-affirming care (Warren is challenging the suspension in federal court and is awaiting a verdict in his case).

3- Housing

Roy says this is particularly relevant in 35 states – laws being filed to prevent rent control, short term rental regulations, inclusionary zoning regulations and sources of income discrimination.

4-Election Administration

Since 2020 a number of states have taken action at local election officials, with the most prevalent being laws that prevent local election officials and departments from accepting nonprofit funds, and in some cases, defunding those offices. The election reform bill signed by Gov. DeSantis in 2021 (SB 90) prohibits election supervisors from accepting donations or grants to fund any aspect of election administration or operations.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.

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