The News Service of Florida
A House panel Wednesday approved a proposal that could lead to people and organizations getting hit with the tab for legal fees if they unsuccessfully challenge changes to comprehensive growth-management plans.
The House Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee approved the bill (HB 359) despite opposition from environmental groups.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Wyman Duggan, R-Jacksonville, would allow “prevailing” parties to recoup legal fees in comprehensive-plan challenges at the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Representatives of environmental groups said the possibility of getting hit with large legal costs if they lose could prevent people and organizations from challenging growth-management decisions by local governments.
“If you pass this bill, you will be putting an insurmountable financial barrier to non-profits like mine and you will be giving an advantage to only local governments and the most-wealthy developers,” Ryan Smart, executive director of the Florida Springs Council, told the House panel.
But Duggan said that if groups “allege and can prove a due-process violation and a departure from the essential requirements of the law, then they should prevail and they’ll get their attorney fees under this change. But if they merely disagree with the local government’s legislative decision-making, then perhaps this (a legal case) isn’t the venue in which they should pursue that challenge. Perhaps they should continue to lobby their local government officials to have a less-expansive view of growth.”