Democrats denounce GOP preemption bills for stifling fight against climate change

Municipalities in Florida that want to ban single-use shopping bags have been trumped at the state level. Marharyto Marko/Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers in Florida demanding clean-energy and climate-change policies said Wednesday that the first thing Republicans can do to help is stop blocking local ordinances that aim to protect the environment.

“The trend, almost uniformly, is local governments trying to do progressive things,” said Sen. Jose Javier-Rodriguez, representing part of Miami-Dade. “The Republican conservative legislators would try to take those powers away from local government because, frankly, it’s easier for lobbyists to get their way up here than it is at city halls.”

“Preemption bills” strip local governments of authority to legislate locally on topics such as environmental protection, minimum wages, sick leave, gun use in public, discriminatory housing practices, rent caps, and high-speed broadband.

The National League of Cities, in its 2018 update on city rights nationwide, called it “a worsening trend of infringements on local democracy.”

“I represent a lot of municipalities in a county that has progressive legislation on the books,” Javier-Rodriguez said, mentioning limits on plastic bags and Styrofoam.

“Locally, the retailers don’t fight it,” he said, “yet they funnel all this money into lobbyists up here in Tallahassee  and try to ban not plastic bags, but they’re trying to ban plastic-bag laws, which is ridiculous.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, representing part of Orange County, said preemption and anti-environmental leadership have stifled progress that Florida should have been making.

She and Javier-Rodriguez are co-sponsoring legislation (HB 97 and SB 256) that would set a timetable for converting Florida to renewable energy. They discussed their proposals during an online round table hosted by the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida.

“Believe it or not, Florida doesn’t have an actual portfolio toward renewable energy. We don’t have a goal post,” she said, so the legislation “would set a goal post that says by 2050 we would be 100 percent renewable energy-based.”

Florida is at 3 percent now, she said.

Action, not talk, is urgently needed because Florida is suffering from the environmental and health harms of inaction, the lawmakers said.

“We have lost a decade under [Republican former Gov. Rick] Scott and the Republican leadership that served him,” Javier-Rodriguez said. “Just starting the conversation on climate is ridiculous. We need action.”

He and Eskamani praised the handful of moderates among Florida Republicans for at last joining Democrats and independents in the conversation about environmental protection and climate change, which national-level Republicans including President Trump have longed dismissed as a hoax.

“It’s hard to exaggerate how hostile the Republican leadership is on anything on energy policy. It is insane,” Javier-Rodriguez said. “We are not the Sunshine State, far from it.”