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Florida Mayors Visit Capitol To Oppose Preemption Bills, Talk Mental Health With AG Ashley Moody

Ryan Dailey

The Florida League of Mayors brought municipality heads to the Capitol Wednesday to oppose preemption bills this legislative session. The group of about 30 mayors also met with Attorney General Ashley Moody to discuss Florida’s mental health system.

Democratic Senator Bobby Powell stood alongside the mayors from around the state as he denounced legislation that takes away local control.

“There’s been legislation aimed at restricting local governments’ ability to enforce exclusionary housing, ban plastic straws, and even regulate vegetable gardens,” Powell said.

Powell wants his colleagues in the Capitol to protect mayors’ decision-making power.

“The concept of home rule has been established in our state constitution for decades,” Powell said. “And we as the legislature, ought to respect and trust our locals to make decisions that are in the best interest of their constituents.”

Matt Surrency is mayor of the City of Hawthorne. He spoke at the press  conference on behalf of his counterparts.

“There have been more than, this year alone, 1,500 general bills filed. We at the municipal level are following more than 600,” Surrency said. And nearly 50 of those contain preemptions.”

Surrency used the example of one bill that was heard this week on the issue of short term rentals.

“This is a local zoning issue. Each of our communities can decide how short term rentals fit within our communities,” Surrency said. “We’re not necessarily for them or against them – but we want the opportunity to work with short term rentals to decide where they go and how they fit in our communities.”

Capital City mayor John Dailey, like his peers, says a one-size-fits-all model is not one that works.

“We have 412 different municipalities and we all have different personalities. To assume what’s good for Tallahassee is good for Gainesville or St. Pete or Miami – we have to have the ability to set local ordinance on the local level,” Dailey said. “Because we are the government that’s closest to the people.”

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks with a group of mayors from around the state about Florida's mental health system on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

Mayors also joined state Attorney General Ashley Moody to discuss Florida’s mental health system. Among the topics Moody brought up was Florida’s worsening opioid crisis.

“When I started and decided to resign as a judge, we were losing 14 people a day in Florida to this crisis,” Moody told the group of mayors. “And from the time it’s taken for me to go from entering this race until now, standing in front of you as the 38th attorney general, we now lose 17 people a day.”

Moody says local leaders must play a role if the state is going to see some of those numbers drop.

“I knew there was no way we’re going to start making progress on this, unless we had a coordinated, strategic, data-proven method of attacking each and every county in this state,” Moody said. “And we did not have a coordinated effort.”

Moody says she has put together a group of experts that recommends best practices for city and county leaders when directing resources. She feels Florida is doing poorly in handling mental health when it intersects with the criminal justice system.

“As a judge, many times I saw people come in front of me with mental health issues, that needed a doctor more than they needed a judge,” Moody said.

Grover Robinson is mayor of Pensacola, and a former county commissioner in Escambia County. He was one of dozens who made the trip to the state capital.

“Certainly at the county we saw that, we ran a jail – and jokingly, but it’s fairly serious in the sense that, we felt we were the largest mental health provider in the community as a jail, and I think that’s absolutely the wrong place to do it,” Robinson said.

Robinson is asking the Florida Legislature to look at ways to inject more funding for mental health, which he says has a trickle-down effect.

“It’s been hard for us to get the State of Florida to understand that they need to put more money into this,” Robinson said. “This is an area that will impact all of our things – it impacts corrections, it impacts health, it impacts education, economic opportunities, all those things are impacted by this.”

Robinson adds homelessness and substance addiction are both problem plaguing Florida cities, which both tie into mental health.

“I think we could be much better in the State of Florida if our legislature was serious about mental health funding,” Robinson said.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.