Legislature Seeks to Trim Local Government Authority


By John Haughey, Watchdog.org

Last wee a Senate committee approved a proposal to restrict local governments’ ability to levy and collect fees from communications providers as part of a proposed cut in the state’s communications sales tax that Florida TaxWatch projects could save consumers $128 million over the next two years.

Three House panels green-lighted proposals to prohibit local governments from imposing requirements on employers, from regulating how restaurants and other establishments distribute plastic straws – a “straw ban ban” – and to eliminate many state occupational licensing requirements and restrict local governments capacities to regulate them.

The five pre-emption bills that moved Tuesday are among a raft of similar measures that seek to clip local government regulatory authority.

Others include Senate Bill 82, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the so-called “Vegetable Garden Bill,” approved by the Senate in a 35-5 vote last week. It prohibits local governments from banning people from growing vegetable gardens anywhere on their property.

Another Senate bill, SB 336, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would require any referendum to adopt or amend a “local-option” sales-tax increase appear only on November general election ballots.

It was approved last week by the Senate Finance & Tax Committee in a 6-2 vote and now goes before the Rules Committee, the last stop before being presented for a chamber vote.

A related House bill, House Bill 5, sponsored by Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, also requires any “local option” sales tax referendum be presented to voters only during general elections, but additionally mandates approval by two-thirds of voters.

HB 5 was approved by the Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee in a 9-3 vote on March 5 and by the House Ways & Means Committee, 12-5, on March 12. It awaits a hearing before the State Affairs Committee.

And HB 3, sponsored by Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, would also prohibit local governments from imposing their own occupational and professional licensing requirements beginning July 1.

Filed Feb. 6, HB 3 was endorsed in a 9-5 partisan vote on Feb. 21 by the House Business & Professions Subcommittee and in a 15-7 vote on March 14 by the House State Affairs Committee. It awaits hearings before the House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and Commerce Committee.

Local Government Preemption Bills

SB 1000, filed by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, which would reduce the state’s communications-services tax and restrict the ability of local governments to collect fees from communications providers that use public roads or rights of way, advanced Tuesday through the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

Filed Feb. 13, SB 1000 was unanimously approved on March 12 by the Senate Innovation, Industry & Technology Subcommittee. Its next stops are hearings before the Senate Finance & Tax and Appropriations committees.

According to Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit research institute focused on Florida taxpayers, the proposed decrease in the state’s communications services tax (CST) rate from 4.92 percent to 3.92 percent, and reduction in the direct-to-home satellite services tax from 9.07 percent to 8.07 percent, would save consumers and businesses $128 million annually.

A House companion bill, HB 693, sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, faces a hearing before the House Ways & Means and Commerce committees. Filed Feb. 7, HB 693 was approved unanimously on March 19 by the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee.

HB 847, sponsored by Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, which would prevent local governments from regulating employment issues such as job responsibilities and hours of work, advanced through the House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Tuesday.

Filed Feb. 14, HB 847 was approved by the House Workforce Development & Tourism Subcommittee in a 9-5 vote on March 19 and now faces a hearing before the House Commerce Committee, its last stop before a floor vote.

A companion Senate bill, SB 432, sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, who is also the state GOP chairman, was approved in a 3-2 -vote on March 12 by the Senate Governmental Oversight & Accountability Committee. It awaits hearings before the Senate Community Affairs and Rules committees.

The bills would prohibit local governments from regulating any requirements imposed on employers relating to minimum wage and conditions of employment.

HB 603 and HB 1299 were both advanced by the House Business & Professions Subcommittee Tuesday.

HB 603, sponsored by Reps. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, and Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, would prevent municipalities from regulating how restaurants and other establishments distribute plastic straws to customers.

Filed Jan 31, after advancing through the House Business & Professions Subcommittee Tuesday, HB 603 faces hearings before the House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and Commerce Committee.

The bill originally proposed a ban on local governments banning single-use straws but during Tuesday’s hearing, Sabatini introduced an amendment calling for a state DEP study on “the measurable effect on our environment” during a five-year moratorium on straw bans.

Less than 20 Florida cities have “straw bans” now in place, according to the state’s analysis of the proposal. The state already preempts bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam containers, local governments have little other place to intervene.

HB 1299, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, also approved Tuesday by the House Business & Professions Subcommittee, pre-empts a wide range of local ordinances, spanning Key West screen bans to tobacco to firearms.

It next goers before the House Commerce Committee with an amendment pre-empting local government straw bans.

HB 27, sponsored by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, would remove or revamp state occupational licensing regulations on numerous types of professions.

Filed March 3, HB 27 was approved in an 11-4 vote on March 19 by the House Business & Professions Subcommittee and advanced Tuesday in a partisan vote by the House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.

The bill now moved into the House Commerce Committee, its final stop before being presented for a floor vote.

While HB 27 is a broader bill revamping the state’s occupational licensing regulations – among the nation’s most onerous – it does include a component of pre-emption in restricting local governments’ capacities to impose their own occupational licensing requirements.

Ingoglia said Tuesday his proposed bill strips away regulations and licenses that do not protect the public but merely protect job security for those already in the field, and income for training schools that provide the education needed to meet the state’s increasing requirements.

“So what has happened over time is the state has listened to a lot of arguments in pushing those [required training hours] up. But the hours weren’t necessary to protect Floridians or the customers, they were there quite honestly to protect the bottom line of these schools,” Ingoglia said.

A Senate companion bill, SB 1640, sponsored by Sen. David Albritton, R-Bartow, was filed on March 1 and awaits hearings before the Senate Innovation, Industry & Technology and Commerce & Tourism subcommittees and Appropriations Committee.

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