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Joshua Simmons: The death of local governments

Preemption is being used as a partisan tool and motivated by special interest.

It has been said that if a Florida Legislative Session takes place during a presidential election cycle, then the business of the Legislature will often be quiet and will not raise major headlines.

However, I must implore all Floridians and all local elected officials to be vigilant and pay attention to this Session, which officially starts Tuesday.

Bills have already been filed, committee appointments have been made, and one thing is clear — local governments’ authority will continue to be under attack.

Home Rule, defined as the ability to establish its form of government through its charter, and to then enact ordinances, codes, plans and resolutions without prior state approval.

Simply stated, local governments were given the authority to work in the best interest of their constituents and municipalities. After all, local elected officials are closest to the people and are very much in tune with the people who voted them into office.

Local electeds often talk to voters at the grocery store, at Little League games, after Commission and board meetings, at restaurants, and basically anywhere the local elected goes within the boundaries of their district or municipality.

However, these conversations often end with the statement: “I am sorry, I can’t help you because the state has prevented us from taking action on this matter.”

Recently, a nonprofit watchdog organization, Integrity Florida, released a very detailed report on the state Legislature’s continued use of preemption to block local electeds from taking action on issues that matter to their constituents.

Legislators, in particular, from the controlling party in Tallahassee have used many different methods of preemption without regard for local governments and without listening to local electeds who plead, session after session, to work with local governments instead of continuing this Thanos-like assault on local governments ability to carry out the wishes of the people they represent.

Integrity Florida’s report revealed that the state has turned from the noble qualities of preemption and moved toward punitive preemptions which not only block local electeds from taking action, but will also cause local electeds to face unfair legal repercussions, such as fines, suspensions and removal from office because the local elected official decided to act on behalf of the people who voted them into office.

Preemption was always meant to be used as way to have uniformity throughout the state on big issues, but when the Legislators are using their time and taxpayer dollars to preempt local governments from banning plastic straws, you have to ask yourself, are they working in the best interest of Florida (or for some restaurant lobbying firm who has padded that legislator’s PAC)?

To make matters worse, Integrity Florida found that: “Some Republicans have expressly acknowledged that the use of preemption is a strategy to block progressive local actions and to punish ‘rogue’ local governments.”

The report goes on to state that instead of enforcing the business of Florida, preemption is being used as a partisan tool and motivated by special interest.

All this takes place in The Capitol, not in your city, not in the place you call home.

I could go on and on for days about the disastrous effect these negative preemptions have on local governments.

For instance, affordable housing is a crisis in South Florida and what affordable housing may look different from one city to the next. However, the State saw fit to preempt inclusionary zoning, effectively blocking local governments from working with developers to provide affordable housing.

Enough is enough.

Residents and local elected officials must stand together and work to protect their homes. This is not a partisan battle, preemptions, especially punitive preemption, sees no color and all local governments are affected.

We have to know what’s going on and we have to change the mindsets of the people we send to Tallahassee.

Local governments are labs of democracy, this is where we are supposed to be innovative and forward-thinking, the state Legislature should not prevent local governments from carrying out this mandate.

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Joshua Simmons is a Coral Springs Commissioner.

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