The 2017 Florida Legislative Session begins Tuesday, March 7th; however, the legislature has already fired up the train and is moving full steam ahead with proposed legislation. It seems like they get started earlier and earlier each year. They were in town last week and are already hearing bills in committee. While the first few committee weeks were focused on agency presentations, they began hearing significant policy proposals last week and will continue to do so for the three remaining committee weeks in February.
We believe the government closest to the people governs best and problems can be solved at the local level much faster than in Tallahassee. Unfortunately, and this happens every year, some local governments make policy decisions that legislators disagree with and so there are preemption bills filed every year. Once again, we find ourselves squarely in the crosshairs of the legislature. A perfect example – one committee in the House held a workshop this week on “excessive local regulations”. I believe that Florida is an incredible place to live not because of the tax policies and deregulation of business that’s often discussed at the state level; but because Florida attracts people because of the great services, infrastructure, and quality of life provided by local governments. I will also tell you it’s frustrating to convince a legislator of that when the discussion is framed around “excessive local regulations that are harming local businesses”. How did we get here?
There have already been several bills filed affecting local government and more are on the way. Repealing the local business tax, preemptions in a number of different fields, and number of other bills that will generally make it harder to solve problems at the local level will be discussed this year. While there have been more “bad” bills filed than “good” ones, we’ve seen legislation filed addressing public records reform and restoring local zoning authority for vacation / short-term rental properties. Other major issues that will be discussed this year include the implementation of Amendment 2 (medical marijuana), renewing the Seminole Compact (gaming reform), and addressing the water issues that have caused problems in the southern part of the state.
It is imperative FCCMA members share information with us (and also FLC and FAC) regarding the impacts of bills affecting their city or county. Lobbyists have generalized information; but having specific details is vital to “telling the full story” of how a bill might help or hinder a local government. I’ve walked into meetings with legislators and completely flipped their position on an issue when I shared the potentially negative impacts of a bill on a community in their district. Information is power and we need as much feedback from your city or county so that we can tell the whole story. I find that legislators running preemption bills often do not have the entire story and use a policy decision made by one local government (out of 411 cities and 67 counties) as the reason for ending all local regulation in that particular area of statute. Some use the argument that “patchwork of duplicative local government regulations” makes it difficult for the business community to succeed. We combat these arguments by showing the reasoning behind the local policy decision and how it has actually positively impacted the community. It is also helpful to know the problem the local government was trying to solve when they adopted the ordinance in the first place and how they got to their solution. As we all know, cities and counties are not against business because economic development is very important for most communities. We want businesses to succeed and want to work with the legislature to help make that possible.
We also ask you to encourage your elected officials to make contact regarding legislation that impacts your community. Your legislators need to know how good (or bad) a bill will be for your city / county. There are hundreds of lobbyists in Tallahassee and while some of them have significant clout, none are as powerful as the voters from a member’s district. Encourage your local elected officials to establish, and maintain, relationships with their legislators. A lobbyist can stand before a House or Senate committee and talk about facts; an elected official from a city or county can talk about the “personal” reality of the legislation with passion for his/her community. It is important and a tremendous asset to the process.
Springtime in Tallahassee is beautiful; but we are not sitting back to enjoy blue skies, warm temperatures and the blooms on the azalea bushes; we (as well as FLC / FAC) work hard to maintain Home Rule authority for Florida’s local governments. We need your help!