A group of Florida mayors are in Tallahassee this week with a united message to state lawmakers: work with us on important issues affecting citizens, not against us.
Officials say that there are some fifty bills circulating in the Legislature this year that involve the state preempting local decisions from cities and counties.
“It is my belief that state preemption is a threat to the very nature of democracy,” says state Senator Bobby Powell, a Democrat from Palm Beach County. “It obstructs the potential for our localities and presents a possible challenge to the (state) Constitution.”
Powell kicked off a press conference held by the mayors in the Capitol Wednesday.
Language to preserve “Home Rule” – meaning the autonomy of local governments to make their own decisions – was proposed in a Constitutional revision in the mid-1960s and was adopted in 1968. After several legal challenges, the Legislature adopted the Home Rule Powers Act in 1973, which ended challenges related to city and county powers.
But state lawmakers have been chipping away for years at taking control from local governments. And seemingly just as quickly as those cities or counties take action on an issue that rises up locally, the Legislature fights back
Take, for example, the recent trend for some local governments to impose bans on the use of plastic straws. That wouldn’t be allowed any longer under two different proposals that passed in a House Committee earlier this week.
Local mayors are concerned this year about proposals to reform Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) and the vexing issue of short-term rental units by companies like Airbnb.
“This is a local zoning issue,” says Matt Surrency, the Mayor of Hawthorne (Alachua County), who was elected last summer to lead the Florida League of Mayors. “Each of our communities can decide how short-term rentals fit within our communities. We’re not necessarily for them or against them, but we want the opportunity to work with the short-term rentals in deciding where they go and how they fit into our communities,” he said.
“This is something we do not want in our small, coastal city,” says Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser, which banned Airbnb. “We are a neighborhood-based community, and to have that sort of short-term rental activity with the congestion of people, the noise, the partying, the parking is going to wreck our neighborhoods and we want to have a say on that.”
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey says he’s not concerned about any particular bill moving through the Legislature, but is more concerned about the general concept of home rule being eroded.
“We need to entrust the local officials,” he said, adding that he’d prefer to remove any partisan politics from the equation and just have local officials sit down with legislative leaders to decide how best to address issues.
“If we set one standard statewide, it does not allow the local elected (officials) to make the decisions that best serve their citizens,” Dailey says.
Mayor Surrency from Hawthorne emphasizes that the mayors don’t oppose everything that the Legislature is working on this year.
“We’re up here to thank the Legislature and to support them on affordable housing funding,” he says. “Robust water project funding. On-site treatment and disposal systems. We believe the state has a lane, and local government has a lane. If we all work together, we can be a great state.”