TALLAHASSEE, Florida – In a proposal sparking heavy fire from local governments, a Senate committee on Tuesday approved a measure that could lead to cities and counties facing lawsuits over decisions that reduce business revenues or profits.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to support the proposal (SB 620), which would allow companies to sue if local ordinances cause at least 15% loss of revenue or profit. The bill would apply to businesses that have been in existence for at least three years.
Sponsor Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine said the requirements of at least 15% loss and three years of activity create a “fairly high threshold.” He said the bill would give businesses a way to recover revenue.
“This is to give the companies that can work hard and cannot run to the county council or the county commission that are affected what I think is severely 15%â¦ they are hammered by an ordinance. and right now the government is just saying, ‘Sorry this is what we’re doing,’ “Hutson said.
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But Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine, a former state senator, said the bill would have a “chilling effect” on the ability of local officials to address residents’ concerns and drive up costs.
“This bill, in essence, takes away our legislative powers – what we voted for, just like you, to fix local problems,” Constantine told senators.
The proposal came after years of lawmakers considering – and often passing – bills to strip local governments of decision-making powers over everything from ridesharing services to sunscreen regulation. So-called âpre-emptionâ invoices have often been motivated by specific local situations.
With his bill, Hutson said he wanted to limit pre-emption fights in the legislature and resolve disputes at the local level. The bill builds on a long-standing state law known as the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act, which allows landowners to sue if government decisions have ” excessively encumbered âthe use of the property.
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The bill received support on Tuesday from groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation and Americans for Prosperity-Florida. But it drew opposition from groups such as the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida League of Cities, the Florida AFL-CIO, and the Sierra Club Florida.
Wakulla County Commissioner Ralph Thomas, president of the Florida Association of Counties, said the measure would force counties to settle lawsuits and pay attorney fees and “redistribute taxpayer dollars.”
âI think this bill is ripe to cause more problems than solutions,â said Thomas, who described himself as a life Republican from a small government.
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Senator Tina Polsky, a Democrat from Boca Raton who opposed the bill, said she was concerned that local governments are “the scarecrow of everything” and that they “are not targeting to hamper businesses “.
âBasically this bill is just a free hand to sue the local government for something a business doesn’t like,â Polsky said.
Hutson and other supporters have said the bill, which is tabled for the 2022 legislative session, could undergo changes. But Senator Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said the bill is about the “take principle” by governments and people should have a remedy in such situations.
âI like the spirit of the bill,â said Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. “We are a great state. We have hundreds of jurisdictions making decisions, and sometimes they get it wrong.”