Fred Grimm

Florida lawmakers use preemption laws to stomp out urban initiatives

Hialeah teens Marian Guerrero, 15, left, Osmin Barrios, 16, Emely Vasquez, 13, and Kristian Rodriguez, 15, scan South Beach for discarded cigarette butts on Saturday morning, July 14, 2012. Approximately 30 tweens and teens in Hialeah's Parks and Recreation Department programs helped beautify the beach at Lummus Park by picking up cigarette butts, plastics and other litter.
Hialeah teens Marian Guerrero, 15, left, Osmin Barrios, 16, Emely Vasquez, 13, and Kristian Rodriguez, 15, scan South Beach for discarded cigarette butts on Saturday morning, July 14, 2012. Approximately 30 tweens and teens in Hialeah's Parks and Recreation Department programs helped beautify the beach at Lummus Park by picking up cigarette butts, plastics and other litter.

Florida mayors would recognize the scenario that led to so much turmoil in North Carolina: A city government passed a progressive ordinance that offended conservative sensibilities out in the hinterlands. The state legislature reacts. And to hell with local autonomy.

After Charlotte, the state’s largest city, passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that, among other things, allowed transgender people to use public bathrooms according to their gender identity, North Carolina’s Republican majority called a special session of the legislature. As if the state was in the throes of a real emergency.

The legislators went into full-scale preemption mode. Not only did they bar anyone in North Carolina from using public bathrooms not designated for their birth gender, but cities were flat out prohibited from adopting their own discrimination policies.

Just for good measure, the legislature tossed in an amendment that prohibits local governments from raising the minimum wage above the state level.

Preemption had struck again. It has become a favorite tool of conservative state legislatures bent on stifling urban sensibilities — especially in Florida, where right-wing lawmakers regularly pass laws to undo South Florida’s local government initiatives.

Just last month, they passed a bill that prohibits city and county governments from passing new ordinances that regulate the Styrofoam containers that litter our beaches, parks and streets. (Styrofoam bans on the books before January were not affected.)

Over the years, the good ol’ boys in Tallahassee have passed preemption laws that make sure that cities and counties can’t prohibit smoking in music venues, patio dining areas, parks and beaches. Local governments can’t demand that restaurants disclose the nutritional content of drinks and dishes. They can’t keep bio-medical waste out of city dumps.

In 2008, local governments were pre-empted from passing ordinances that prohibited or even taxed plastic bags until the state could come up with its own regulations on those environmental nuisances. We’re still waiting on the regs.

Local governments can no longer raise the minimum wage or tweak worker benefits (though Miami-Dade and Broward County living-wage laws weren’t affected.) Cities and counties can’t regulate beekeeping or prohibit homeowners from owning exotic animals, even jungle cats or cobras. Other than Miami-Dade County, which has a special home-rule exemption in the Florida Constitution, local governments can’t ban pit pulls.

The NRA has shoved a passel of the onerous preemption laws through our shoot-em-up Legislature. Local governments can’t prohibit concealed weapons in parks or playgrounds or libraries or other public buildings. They can’t regulate the sale or possession of ammunition. They can’t mess with firing ranges. They can’t sue firearms companies. City and county elected officials risk a $5,000 and removal from office if they “knowingly and willfully violate” the preemption gun laws.

Florida’s many preemption laws wreak of hypocrisy, coming from right-wingers who constantly rail about federal interference in state prerogatives. From politicians who’d rather see their constituents suffer without health care than bend to a Washington mandate.

Besides, they know best. Just look how well preemption is working out for North Carolina.

  Comments