Legislating in a state with 21 million residents is, no doubt, difficult. In light of Florida's limits on generating tax dollars, senators and representatives often find themselves committing the political equivalent of robbing Peter to pay Paul — raiding so-called trust funds to shore up the general-revenue budget and shifting the burden of providing services, including education, to local governments.
However, the Legislature could easily avoid making matters worse in 2018 by abandoning its "Tallahassee knows best" mindset.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has in recent years employed "pre-emption" to replace locally crafted ordinances with statewide laws. Pre-emption has typically focused on local laws that state legislators — and lobbyists and their patrons — don't like. The Legislature has intervened on a wide range of matters — liberalizing gun laws, restricting local fertilizer rules and the like.
Bills pending in the Legislature, which opens its session today, would prevent cities and counties from regulating short-term home rentals, overtake local ordinances on trees and impose significant limits on community redevelopment organizations.
These bills and the pre-emption trend are troubling. They ignore and undermine the principle of home rule, which was established in 1968 when voters approved wide-ranging changes to the Florida Constitution. The establishment of home rule, which enables local governments to enact ordinances and policies without state approval (so long as they don't conflict with Florida law or its constitution), was prescient.
Neither the drafters of the relevant constitutional amendments nor voters in 1968 could have anticipated the scope of the changes that have occurred in Florida, but they knew that the population would rise substantially and that the Legislature could not be responsive to local issues in a growing state. After legal challenges, in 1973 the Legislature passed the Home Rule Powers Act.
For decades, the act and resulting balance of power served Florida and its communities well. The 1973 act did not prevent the state from acting promptly and appropriately when necessary — for example, when Hurricane Andrew in 1992 demonstrated the need for stronger building codes statewide, with even higher standards for coastal areas.
The home rule principle has enabled cities and counties to craft local responses to the widely divergent needs of the state's populace. As we have written in editorials about proposed pre-emption of local ordinances regulating short-term vacation rentals, there are significant differences among, say, South Beach in Miami, Siesta Key in Sarasota County and the small city of Anna Maria. Those differences should be addressed differently.
Consider this: Florida has five counties with populations exceeding 1 million (six states have fewer than 1 million residents) and 25 counties with less than 50,000 residents — including seven with less than 15,000.
Should the rules on tree trimming or vacation rentals be the same in Miami-Dade (2.7 million) and Liberty (8,202) counties? Of course not.
And it's not as though local governments don't have skin in the game: In recent years, local governments have generated about 46 percent of tax income statewide.
Much has changed in Florida during the past 50 years, but the value of home rule has not. Let it stand.