Six municipalities — mostly in South Florida — are declaring victory for home rule.
The plaintiffs — the cities of Gainesville, Lauderhill, Miramar, North Miami Beach, Tallahassee and Wilton Manors — are withdrawing their suit against anti-riot legislation (HB 1) passed in 2021 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. They say 2023 legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis signed May 25 cures the problem their suit addressed.
The 2021 legislation was passed amid cries to “defund the police.” One provision of the law created a pathway for the state to overrule a city’s decision to reduce its law enforcement budget and divert funds to other projects.
DeSantis, who has touted Florida as a “law and order state,” had denounced the “defund the police” slogan from his bully pulpit. He made it clear he did not want law enforcement resources diverted into community support services and other forms of public safety. The anti-riot law has helped DeSantis claim that “in Florida, we don’t defund the police.”
But 2023’s legislation (HB 1595) more specifically defines when state review of a city’s law enforcement budget will be triggered, which the other law hadn’t. According to the new law, budget decisions will come under state scrutiny when law enforcement expenditures drop more than 5% compared to the current year’s operating budget.
“I am proud to have been a part of this courageous coalition standing up to the Governor,” said Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam. “Local governments are crucial to building movements toward justice. We must be able to use all available tools to do so, including through our budgets. The City of Miramar is celebrating this victory in the name of home rule control.”
The cities’ case made it past the first hurdle in October, court records in the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Leon County show. The case was proceeding when the Legislature convened this year.
The legislation — which Republican Reps. Juan Fernandez-Barquin and Taylor Yarkosky introduced — got more notice for a provision requiring Miami-Dade County to have an elected Sheriff and not a Police Director the Mayor appoints.
This legislation also reduces the time that a challenge can be filed to a reduction in law enforcement funding. Instead of 30 days, State Attorneys or City or County Commissioners have 10 days to appeal the budget after the tentative budget is posted to the municipality’s official website.
The Public Rights Project handled the legal work for the cities’ constitutional challenge against the 2021 law, bolstered by the Community Justice Project, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP.
The cities’ advocates called the anti-riot legislation’s provisions “a complete takeover of the municipal process.” But legislators apparently re-thought the move.
“This is an important victory for local movement-building in Florida,” said Jonathan Miller, Chief Program Officer at Public Rights Project, which served as lead counsel in the case. “As this case demonstrates, when cities stand up against abuses of power and fight to protect the rights of their residents, they can win.”
Another suit related to the 2021 anti-riot legislation remains open in the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Dream Defenders, the Black Collective, the Chainless Change, Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward County, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and Northside Coalition of Jacksonville brought a suit against the Governor and the administration, arguing the law interferes with First Amendment rights.
Renzo Downey contributed to this report.