November 2017

Home rule

Florida lawmakers should abandon their hypocritical efforts to overthrow the domestic regime

Imagine a Florida where a set of state regulations governed key issues now decided locally.

Let’s take an example: noise ordinances.

Currently, each municipality and county in Florida determines its own noise ordinance. What works in Stuart or Vero Beach may not work in Port St. Lucie or Melbourne. State law allows each local government to decide this issue – and many similar issues – for itself.

Such autonomy derives from the principle of autonomy — the right of local governments, based on input from constituents, to establish their own ordinances, regulations and future plans.

The domicile rule is prescribed in Florida statutes (i.e. 125.01 and 166.021). This is one of the reasons why our communities are different from each other. Local authorities have the power to regulate building codes, zoning ordinances, bar closing times, location of adult businesses and height restrictions, to name a few.

But what if some – or many – statutory rights were pre-empted by the state?

Hopefully we never have to find out.

This almost came to fruition during the legislative session last spring. A bill introduced by State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, would have prevented local governments from adopting or imposing new regulations on businesses, professions or occupations unless those rules n have already been expressly authorized.

Fortunately, House Bill 17 failed.

Nevertheless, the 2017 legislature passed eight new laws that hamper the ability of local authorities to develop local regulations. And lawmakers seem set to do the same in the session that begins in January.

Consequently, local officials across Florida are speaking out against the precipitous erosion of autonomy.

“Efforts are underway at the state level to cut community redevelopment agencies and eliminate some of our revenue without replacing it,” said Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald, a strong supporter of self-reliance. “I strongly believe that the most responsive government starts with people at the local level and moves forward.”


Officials like McDonald’s have reason to be concerned.

It appears House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has set his sights on diminishing autonomy. Corcoran championed HB 17, as well as House Bill 13, which would have targeted community redevelopment agencies for reform and, ultimately, extinction.

HB 13 failed to pass the muster in the previous session, but Corcoran promised to bring it back in the next session.

CRAs are special districts created by local governments to rehabilitate degraded areas. While there is reason to argue that targeted reforms to ARC programs are needed, it would be a legislative overreach to eliminate them altogether.

Perhaps also on the legislative block: the (already limited) ability of local governments to regulate short-term vacation rentals.

Then, coming in November 2018, a proposed constitutional amendment — put on the ballot by the Legislature — that would expand the state property tax exemption from $50,000 to $75,000. If approved by voters, it would cost local governments, which would lose about $752 million in revenue in year one, rising to $816 million in year five.

There is a lot of hypocrisy at the state level when it comes to the issue of autonomy. Florida lawmakers often rail against federal excesses and unfunded mandates imposed on the state by lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Yet those same state lawmakers have little to no reservations about imposing restrictions. more important to local governments.

There is also a geographical argument to be made here.

Currently, local residents can bring their concerns about local issues directly to their respective city council or county commission and get a hearing. But where do these same residents go in the absence of autonomy, when problems are determined solely at the state level?


It is far from the Treasure Coast.

Democracy is belittled when the alternative is a single form of governance controlled by distant bureaucrats.

No one knows a local community better than its local elected officials. And of the three groups of officials — that is, federal, state, and local — no one is more accessible to local residents than local officials. Therefore, common sense suggests that we preserve the authority of this group to provide primary governance at the local level.

The Florida League of Cities, in its legislative agenda for the upcoming session, has identified the preservation of local autonomy as its number one priority.

“The League anticipates that legislative efforts to disenfranchise citizens and transfer control of local decisions to the state legislature will continue into the 2018 legislative session,” the document said.

The Florida legislature should cease its efforts to overthrow the domestic regime.

The trampling of local autonomy is contrary to the spirit of democracy.

Editorials for Treasure Coast Newspapers/TCPalm are decided collectively by its Editorial Board. To respond to this editorial in a letter to the editor, email up to 300 words to [email protected]

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