Tallahassee Democrat: Opinion: Florida cities are fighting for home rule

It’s no secret that Florida’s cities and counties are under attack. The Florida Constitution gives local governments broad “home rule” powers to deal with local issues and priorities. For decades, Florida’s communities have taken pride in local laws that provide local solutions, while reflecting our state’s unique values and needs.

In recent years, corporate special interests have upended that rich history of local control. They’ve pushed for increasingly extreme state laws that preempt cities and counties from passing laws that corporations disagree with — often at a cost to the health, safety, and economic well being of local residents.

Local communities have started pushing back — and now, one city has taken the issue to the Florida Supreme Court.

In 2016, Miami Beach enacted the first local minimum wage law in Florida. With one of the state’s highest costs of living, local residents made the case for a higher minimum wage. The city planned to gradually increase the local minimum wage until it reached $13.31 in 2021. The authority for this increase came from a 2004 ballot initiative, approved by more than 70 percent of voters, establishing a minimum wage in the state Constitution — and the right to enact higher local minimum wages.

But before the law could go into effect, the Florida Retail Federation and other special interest lobbyists sued, citing a 2003 state law that preempted cities from enacting a local minimum wage.

It’s another example of corporate interests empowered by state lawmakers who have distinguished themselves as national leaders in hostility towards local democracy.

In 2016, lawmakers not only banned local regulation of firearms, but also made elected officials personally liable for passing any law to the contrary. In 2017, HB 17 would have prohibited any local regulation of businesses, unless the state expressly allowed it. Even worse, last year’s SB 1158 would have allowed one city to invalidate another city’s law, if it believed that the local law violated the state prohibition.

These laws aren’t business as usual. They’re extreme. They’re unprecedented. They’re designed to intimidate, bully and silence local communities. And they threaten every city’s basic responsibility — to decide, for example, that its residents don’t want a large, polluting factory sited next to a school.

State lawmakers aren’t the only ones to blame — corporate special interests are abusing their power, limiting local control and driving the effort to prevent local communities from keeping their economies and communities healthy.

They claim these laws help avoid a “patchwork” of regulations that hurt businesses. That simply isn’t true. Businesses have always adapted to local ordinances — and local governments have long decided how to best meet the needs of their people and businesses.

Now local communities and allies are fighting back.

Our organizations are standing with local communities for better wages, for healthier, safer communities, and to protect the meaning of local democracy.

We encourage the Florida Supreme Court to take up Miami Beach’s minimum wage case. It’s about more than a fair paycheck for hard work. It’s about more than responsible local environmental laws, firearms regulations, or zoning ordinances.

It’s about the very heart of our Constitution — and the attempts of state lawmakers to override local democracy, voter intent and the rights of 20 million local citizens.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is a partner in the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions. Christine L. Owens is executive director of the National Employment Law Project. Amanda Ballantyne is the national director of the Main Street Alliance. Pamela Goodman is president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

You can read the original op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat

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Christine L. Owens

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