Sun Sentinel: Home rule isn’t broken. Why do lawmakers want to ‘fix it’?
There’s an old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
But in the state legislative session, it appears some lawmakers want to “fix” how local governments operate to serve local citizens. This so-called “fix” would rip power away from local citizens and put the Legislature and Tallahassee powerbrokers in charge of local decisions.
Florida is home to over 400 municipal governments, also commonly known as “cities.” A majority of Floridians live, work and play inside cities. Cities are a vital part of what makes Florida such an incredible place.
So what exactly is a city?
A city is created by local citizens who band together for a common purpose. A common goal. A shared vision. These citizens choose to form their own government because, for whatever reason, the state or county government is not meeting the unique needs of their community. The Legislature reviews the concept to verify that it meets state requirements, but ultimately the choice is up to local voters. The community chooses the type of city that works best for them — how it will be run and what services it will provide, such as water, police and parks.
The Florida Constitution gives local citizens the power to make this choice, and then gives them the authority to govern themselves accordingly. This citizen-centered concept is known as “Home Rule.” Nearly 50 years ago, Florida citizens granted themselves the power of Home Rule by making it a part of our state Constitution.
The voter-approved language states:
“Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services…”
This means, for example, if a city wants to install a stop light; add a traffic sign; hire more police officers; build a holding pond to prevent flooding; or hold an annual parade, it doesn’t need to ask the Legislature for permission. So long as a city doesn’t violate state law — like post a speed limit of 150 miles per hour, or purposefully dump garbage into a nearby river — the city has the flexibility and the independence to serve its citizens’ needs and preferences.
A bill making its way through the Legislature would nearly eviscerate local Home Rule. HB 17 would strip away the rights of local citizens to govern themselves and hand that power to the Legislature. It would invite Tallahassee powerbrokers — most of whom do not fully understand the unique characteristics of our communities that we consider most valuable – into our very backyards and enable them to make potentially detrimental changes without our consent.
If HB 17 had been the law these past 50 years rather than Home Rule, local communities would have been powerless to timely act on issues like fracking, sea level rise, pill mills, internet cafes, drunken spring-breakers, rave clubs, panhandlers, gangs, sexual predators, safe streets and sidewalks, lighted parking lots, hurricane response and trash dumping. These are the very things that affect a community directly, thus only the community should have the power to decide their fate.
The real question is, “What’s broken?” And why do lawmakers want to fix it by expanding Tallahassee’s reach at the expense of everyday citizens? Florida’s system of local Home Rule is working well. Florida has one of the most robust and attractive economies of all 50 states. Our municipalities are growing and prospering, citizens are flocking to cities and businesses are booming.
Poll after poll shows voters are happier with their local city government than any other form of government. There is simply no need for this blatant power grab by some members of the Legislature. Mind you, this is the same Legislature that sends a resolution to Congress every year complaining about unfunded mandates and unwanted federal intrusion into state affairs. It seems some lawmakers want to turn around and do the same thing to Florida municipalities this session. Lawmakers would do well to oppose this misguided legislation.
Dan Daley is the vice mayor of Coral Springs.