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Court upholds Panama City Beach’s scooter rental ban

Wednesday’s majority opinion focused on the city’s home-rule powers.

A state appeals court has upheld a decision by Panama City Beach to ban the rental of motorized scooters starting in September 2020, finding that “municipalities have broad authority to regulate activities impacting public health, safety, and welfare so long as such regulations are not arbitrary or unreasonable.”

The Wednesday ruling by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected arguments that Panama City Beach did not have the power to ban a business unless it is a legal nuisance and that such restrictions are “preempted” by state laws.

The case stems from two ordinances passed in 2017 to prohibit the overnight rental of scooters and to completely prohibit scooter rentals effective Sept. 8, 2020.

Classy Cycles, Inc., took the case to the appeals court after a Bay County circuit judge upheld the ordinances.

Wednesday’s majority opinion focused, in part, on the city’s home-rule powers in addressing potentially dangerous conditions.

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“We find no error in the trial court’s determination that a geographically small city has the right to restrict a business from operating within the city when the undisputed facts demonstrate that the restriction is for the safety of the city’s citizens and visitors,” said the majority opinion, written by Judge James Wolf and joined by Chief Judge Stephanie Ray.

“We also find that (a state traffic control law) does not preempt the ordinances because it provides the city the right to pass restrictions on types of vehicles which may be operated in congested areas.”

But Judge Scott Makar, in a partial dissent, wrote that a total prohibition on scooter rentals is not allowed under state law.

“The exclusive purpose of the city’s ban on intra-city rentals of motorized scooters is to regulate traffic movement, which is within the pre-emptive core of Florida’s Uniform Traffic Control Law,” Makar wrote. “It was error to conclude otherwise.”

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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