Florida Times-Union: Florida mayors rail against legislative threats to home rule
TALLAHASSEE | Florida has 412 cities, but most of them are small towns with issues different than those in Jacksonville or Miami.
Yet the Legislature is considering a bill that some say is an attempt to create a one-size-fits-all policy that would limit cities’ ability to regulate businesses and industries, prohibit local governments from making policies that affect vacation rentals and cellphone towers and even dissolve some local economic development agencies.
“They take away our local decision-making and make it centralized,” said Carol McCormack, president of the Florida League of Mayors and mayor of Palm Shores, during a Wednesday news conference. “The planning and decision-making, they want to leave that up to the legislators in Tallahassee.”
McCormack and a few dozen other mayors from across the state, including Baldwin’s Sean Lynch, spent the week in Tallahassee speaking to lawmakers and testifying against proposals they say amount to an attack on local control.
Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves was among those who spoke in committee against a bill that would cap the amount of money cities could collect in business taxes. He said that businesses he hears from every day rarely complain about the fees for business licenses and are more concerned about zoning regulations and fire codes.
Too many legislators are out of touch with how things work on the local level, Reeves said.
“Many of the people serving are good people, but many of them of have never been council people,” he said. “They’ve never been mayors; they’ve never been in city government.”
The Northeast Florida delegation is a mixed bag. State Rep. Clay Yarborough is a former Jacksonville City Council president and Rep. Kim Daniels also served on the city council. Rep. Cyndi Stevenson is a former St. Johns County commissioner and Rep. Jason Fischer was a member of the Duval County School Board.
Others, including freshman Rep. Cord Byrd, had no previous government experience before joining the Legislature. Reeves said Byrd has done a good job reaching out to the local elected officials in his district, which includes the Beaches, to obtain feedback and insight.
“Since he’s been elected, I’ve probably had four or five meetings with him,” Reeves said. “And some of those meetings came from him to me. So he’s reaching out to us to help us and that’s what we want. We want somebody who is going to represent us, listen to us and help get it done.”
Fischer, R-Jacksonville, said he believes the Legislature should work to strike a balance between sensible solutions that benefit businesses while also respecting home rule. He opposes House Bill 17 that would prohibit cities and counties from creating new business regulations.
“I think it goes too far as someone who served in local government,” Fischer said.
On the other hand, he supports HB 687 and companion SB 596, which creates statewide guidelines for telecommunications equipment like phone towers that are slated for public property, including how much permits will cost and installation guidelines. As new technologies come on line, the traditional boundaries separating municipalities matter less and less, Fischer said.
ORANGE COUNTY – Soon, city and county governments in Florida could have less authority over their public right-of-ways courtesy of a recently introduced bill making its way through the state Legislature in Tallahassee.