Yet, on other issues, Florida has embraced the so-called “patchwork” as a virtue of small government flexibility, even when it meant different rules for businesses.
The Legislature has given local governments authority to tax businesses and services at different rates, enact local sales tax increases, create “enterprise zones” with special regulations for business development and regulate development locally. Lawmakers have also embraced more local jurisdiction over “tourist development taxes” and “manufacturing development zones” this year.
In trying to fix the state’s problem-rigged elections system, the Florida Senate passed a bill Wednesday giving local counties flexibility over how many hours of voting to offer in the weeks before Election Day.
Democrats, who have pushed for uniform early voting statewide, pounced on the inconsistency, using words like “patchwork” and “discretion.” A minority in the Legislature, Democrats have also come down on both sides of the local control debate.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said he hears often that Tallahassee lawmakers are being “inconsistent” on local control, but doesn’t agree.
“Home rule is not a blank check to allow local governments to do whatever they want to do,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance. There are some things that are properly reserved to the state, some things that are properly reserved for the federal government, and some things that are properly reserved for the local government.”
Florida’s “home rule” statutes have been on the books since the Constitution was revised in 1968, giving local governments power to self-govern on issues not preempted by the state. The state has used its preemption powers selectively over the years, taking on hot-button issues like gun regulation and tobacco laws in the 1980s.
As counties and cities have become more independent, businesses have sought preemption from Tallahassee lawmakers to protect their interests.
Companies that have lost battles in local court or with local officials have sent teams of lobbyists to the state Capitol to get the law changed. They are often successful in the business-friendly Legislature.
Bills this year affecting alimony, high-school athletics, property taxes, wetlands permitting, lawn fertilizers and condo foreclosures all seek to usurp power from local decision-makers in favor of the state. Lawmakers backing the bills point to scenarios where local officials and judges have abused their powers and need to be reined in.
Here are a few of the preemption bills currently pending in the Florida Legislature:
For the past three years, the business lobby has pushed for a bill outlawing the “wage theft” ordinance that Miami-Dade County enacted in 2010. That ordinance created a local administrative program to help workers recover unpaid wages from their employers.
A business group took Miami-Dade County to court over the ordinance, but a judge tossed the case last year. Now, lawmakers are pushing to stop other counties from creating similar ordinances. HB 1125, which passed the Florida House on a 71-45 vote last week, would force workers to take their bosses to court to recoup their lost wages.
Proponents say it will create a unified standard across the state to deal with the problem of wage theft.