Florida Local Governments Try To Stave Off State Interference

Apr 15, 2014

Every year Florida lawmakers come to Tallahassee armed with bills they hope, will become laws. And every year, local governments gear up in the hopes of staving off what they see as efforts to usurp their authority.

The battles between state and local governments happen every year, and this session is no different. Proposals on everything from spiny lobsters to regulating paper or plastic in supermarkets have been filed, along with recurring fights over how local governments handle their pension obligations.

“Everything is going to have a different type impact," says Leon County Commissioner and President of the Florida Association of Counties, Brian Desloge. "Most of the time we try to measure it on the fiscal impact, and the legislature, although they have a specific job to do, most of the time we find one size doesn’t fit all.”

Desloge advocates for a middle ground,  with the state allowing counties flexibility on issues like water ordinances, and gun laws. That didn’t happen a year ago when the state came in and mandated local governments do away with most of their gun ordinances that were deemed too restrictive.  Desloge, a gun owner himself pushes for a balance:

“We said no guns in county parks—[now we] can’t do that. Think about someone showing up to a county park at the ball games and having a gun on the sidelines. It’s just some common sense things but there needs to be some balance there. It can’t be all or nothing, or my way or the highway. There has to be some reasonableness there," he says.

But some argue cities and counties go too far and need to be reined in.

“There are some areas, where constitutional rights, [the first amendment--you don’t want cities imposing limits on people’s first amendment rights. That’s also the argument for of defenders of the second amendment," says Bob Sanchez, Policy Director for the free market think tank, the James Madison Institute.

Sanchez argues for state preemption in certain cases.

“Some economic issues transcend municipal boundaries and county boundaries," he says. "If you’re the operator of a restaurant, you’d hope your city doesn’t impose a minimum wage at $100 an hour to make everyone rich, because that would put you out of business and the restaurant across the city line in another city would be getting all your customers."

Sanchez says local governments do and should have say in areas like zoning, community planning, and building codes.

Meanwhile, Scott Dudley, with the Florida League of Cities, says the lines are much more defined when it comes to the duties of local versus state government. He argues there are some places where the state has gone too far, such a fight involving gas stations.

“They’re going to set a statewide standard giving a telephone number you can call--it’s a different system. We have counties in the state that require, if you’re over a certain number of pumps to have someone on hand to pump gas for disabled people. We think that’s a pretty legitimate use.”

While both sides squabble over how much power is delegated to cities and how much to counties—there is somewhat of a consensus of where the legislature may have gone too far—and that is a 1999 rule governing local pensions. That particular law has contributed to problems within city and county pension funds. So if the problems are so great, why don’t cities and counties put up more of a fight? Dudley says it a formula involving some political calculus:

“This is a body up there making laws that affect us. Do we want to poke them into the eye? There are a whole bunch of calculations. Is there a way to get around it and deal with the mandate? Or figure out another way.”

Bottom line: at the end of the day, the state still controls the purse strings.