The arguments against state Sen. Greg Steube's continued attempt to replace locally crafted ordinances regulating short-term rentals with a statewide, one-size-fits-all law fall into two categories: principle and practical.
The important principle is that certain decisions are best left to elected leaders in cities and counties — with direct input from the people most likely to be affected in their own communities.
But Steube, a Republican from Sarasota County, is part of the "Tallahassee knows best" movement, which his party used to decry until it dominated state government.
Using the so-called pre-emption tactic, the Legislature has imposed laws statewide and effectively nullified local ordinances on matters from fertilizer to guns. Current legislators continue to pre-empt local decisions on impact fees, red-light cameras and, in Steube's case, tree removal and protocols for parking garages. (Yes, Senate Bill 378 would prevent local governments from prohibiting motorists from, or ticketing them for, backing into parking spaces in public garages.)
There are countless cases in which state and federal laws and rules are necessary and beneficial.
Yet there are times to defer to local conditions and community sentiment.
Steube unintentionally made a practical case against his bill in a comment to Zac Anderson of the Herald-Tribune. The senator said that, if Senate Bill 1400 becomes law, Florida will have "a similar framework for the entire state versus the city of Sarasota having regulations, the city of Bradenton, Anna Maria, Longboat Key all having regulations."
But the reality-based problem with that approach is that the differences between, say, the cities of Anna Maria and Sarasota are both relevant and significant. Anna Maria has no high-rises; Sarasota has plenty, and each municipality has a distinct character.
Differences are compounded when the comparisons are between, for example, Sarasota County (population 407,000) and Miami-Dade County (2.6 million; including 440,000 in the city of Miami alone). Consider also the contrasts between the town of Longboat Key, known for its laid-back retiree atmosphere, and South Beach in Miami, which buzzes with youthful energy almost around the clock.
It would be virtually impossible for a statewide law to adequately take such differences into account — even if proponents of pre-emption wanted to accommodate local considerations. The latter is unlikely because Steube and others, including an industry group whose members include AirBnB, contend that property owners should be able to rent houses with little, if any, regulation as a matter of property rights.
But vacation rentals are increasingly becoming a big business. So what about the rights of homeowners who bought properties in neighborhoods zoned as residential but now face the prospect of being surrounded by houses that effectively serve as motel or hotel rooms, rented out a day or two at a time? What about their reliance on reasonable regulations — just as homeowners depend on zoning rules that would restrict the use of residential properties for retail businesses?
There is a balancing act to perform, and that task is best attempted by Florida's diverse cities and counties, not by a Legislature governing a state of 21 million people and even more visitors.