Whether it's trees or plastic straws, there has been plrenty of debate in recent years about local government control versus state preemption
SARASOTA — This year it was trees and plastic straws. In years past it was guns, vacation rentals and a host of other issues that local governments were prohibited from regulating by the Florida Legislature.
The clash between state preemption and the home rule authority of local governments continues to generate high profile legislative battles year after year in Florida, and it was the subject of a Sarasota Tiger Bay Club panel discussion Thursday.
Sarasota and Manatee counties have been significantly affected by many of the preemption debates. Short-term vacation rentals have been a particularly hot-button issue here, especially on Anna Maria Island. Tree protection also has generated extensive debate in the city of Sarasota, and the city recently passed an ordinance aimed, in part, at curbing the use of plastic straws.
This year the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a bill outlawing local plastic straw bans, but it was vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. But another bill that allows property owners to cut down trees without getting local permits — so long as a certified arborist or landscape architect determines the tree threatens property or human life — became law.
Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines, a Republican, said Thursday that each preemption debate is different.
“It kind of depends on the issue,” he said in arguing that statewide regulations make more sense with some issues than others. “Sometimes it could come from the state down, but like the tree ordinance … folks in Sarasota County may want greater tree protection than folks in Escambia County.”
Local environmental regulations have been a frequent target of state lawmakers. Critics of local tree protection rules say they infringe on private property rights.
Adrian Moore, the vice president of policy for the Reason Foundation, a Libertarian think tank, said it’s “very hard to draw a clear bright line” when it comes to property rights issues.
“That’s just part and parcel of regulations that directly impinge on how people use their land,” Moore said, adding: “It can be very tricky finding those lines, and I think the problem in the environmental issue space is the use of bans as opposed to maybe subtler, more focused regulations.”
The short-term vacation rental debate also has generated extensive discussion about private property rights. Many rental home owners say they should be allowed to use their property as they see fit, while neighborhood advocates argue that these businesses are infringing on the rights of their neighbors.
Hines and former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson said the vacation rental debate has been a thorny one.
“This really is an area where it’s very hard to get people to agree,” Patterson said.
Hines said he gets plenty of emails about vacation rentals where trash and loud noise is a problem.
“This has been a tough balance” between the rights of rental home owners and their neighbors, he said.
But Moore said issues like trash and noise already are regulated, and such regulations “work great.” He said he knows from experience because he lives on a street with a lot of vacation rentals and has not been bothered by them.
“Clearly with Airbnb some local regulation makes perfect sense; a ban is probably a bridge too far,” Moore said, referencing a popular vacation rental company. “So you gotta find that line.”
Sarasota County School Board member Shirley Brown also participated in the panel discussion and raised concerns about state education mandates. Brown is a former state House member, but Hines said it would have been helpful to hear from current lawmakers on the preemption issue.
Not discussed Thursday were the partisan undertones of the preemption debate. The Legislature is controlled by Republicans while many municipalities are controlled by Democrats.
Some have argued that preemption is nothing more than a power grab by Republicans who do not like Democratic policies, although some of the local policies that have been preempted do not have clear partisan divides.