Legislation lawmakers hope will curb onerous local ordinances and the need for state preemptions is nearing reality after getting pushed to its final House committee.
The measure (HB 569), named the “Local Business Protection Act,” would allow businesses to sue local governments over changes to local ordinances if the businesses are at least three years old and can prove a new law resulted in a 15% loss of income. Eligible businesses would be entitled to recover expert-determined damages unless a city elects to roll back the ordinance.
The House Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee adopted language that the Senate passed 22-14 on Thursday. Those changes helped garner support from some Republicans on the fence as well as some local government organizations.
A loss of 15% isn’t a rounding error, bill sponsor and Dover Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure told the House panel, which advanced the measure Wednesday with a party-line 11-6 vote.
“Fifteen percent is catastrophic,” McClure said. “That is a function of something going terribly wrong, and the repercussions of that will absolutely trickle down to the employees and the families that are dependent on that business.”
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes broke ranks to vote with Democrats as the Senate passed the legislation (SB 620), carried by St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson. That was despite concessions Hutson said he made to critics.
The concessions added exemptions for ordinances or charter provisions relating to procurement or intended to promote, enable or facilitate economic competition. Another major change specified that businesses must have been within the jurisdiction for three years, not just within the state.
While Hutson and McClure’s changes didn’t satisfy Democrats, they did earn support from the Florida League of Cities. The Florida Association of Counties also noted that the changes solved their problems with the legislation.
Although Republicans held the line on the vote, some still have reservations. Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith said, despite his concerns, he was putting his trust and confidence in McClure’s leadership to continue improving the bill.
“I don’t think there’s a bill I’ve read so far this Session that gives me more concern, more trepidation, of the potential unintended consequences on taxpayers,” Smith said.
Maitland Democratic Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil, a lawyer by trade, appreciated the changes lawmakers have made. However, she said too much opposition to the bill still exists.
“I haven’t been convinced that we need this … especially being an attorney, thinking about the tort issue and taxpayers having to pay for that,” Goff-Marcil said.
The bill would take effect immediately upon becoming law. It next heads to the House Judiciary Committee, its final committee stop.
Together with another measure (SB 260/HB 403), which would require local governments to evaluate the business impact of local ordinances before passing them, Senate Republicans hope the pair of proposals could get the Legislature out of the preemption business. For several years, state lawmakers have consistently attempted to rein in local government rulemaking authority on issues like sunscreen, plastic bags, bar hours and more. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill to overrule Key West’s cruise ship ban.
The Senate version, also carried by Hutson, similarly passed the Senate 28-8 on Thursday. The House version, carried by Cape Coral Republican Rep. Mike Giallombardo, awaits a hearing in the House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee, its second of three committee stops.
Rich Templin, a lobbyist for the Florida AFL-CIO, told the committee that McClure’s bill would put the Legislature’s thumb on the scale for the status quo when local governments want to address environmental, housing and social needs.
“They are going to have a legal gun to their head in terms of a new court process that’s going to dissuade them from doing that because of the fear of the significant financial losses that may incur if they do that,” Templin said.
McClure encouraged Smith, Sunrise Democratic Rep. Dan Daley and others who still had concerns to meet with him. However, he said he believes the bill has been narrowed to instances when businesses have been truly damaged by local governments and that local governments made the decision to go forward with the plan despite warnings.
“I feel quite comfortable with that,” McClure said. “But to the extent that you feel there’s going to be unintended consequences as it’s worded, let’s sit down and work those out.”