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New study warns local control is under attack

A wide shot of Florida's legislature chamber. (FL State Legislature)
A wide shot of Florida's legislature chamber. (FL State Legislature)(WCTV)
Published: Jan. 6, 2020 at 5:14 PM EST
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

January 6, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Local governments ability to control their own communities is under attack.

That’s the message from a new report published by a government watchdog group in the state capitol, suggesting state lawmakers have become increasingly aggressive when it comes to preempting local governments on issues from plastic straws to gun control.

Over the past three years, state lawmakers have proposed 119 bills that would preempt local governments in various ways.

Sixteen have already been filed for the 2020 session.

“It shows you the concerted effort on a yearly basis to limit the power of local governments,” said Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida.

The new report found preemptions are becoming not only more numerous, but also more punitive.

“Their efforts are not designed to influence local actions, but to prevent any at all,” said Alan Stonecipher with Integrity Florida.

They trace the trend back to a 1987 law that prohibited local governments from passing gun restrictions stronger than the state's.

In 2011, lawmakers implemented harsh penalties for local officials who violate the preemption.

“I think that's a constitutional violation of free speech,” said Wilcox.

The law was struck down by a circuit court, but is now on appeal.

Marion Hammer with the NRA said lawmakers are well within their rights to hold rogue local officials accountable.

“If they refuse to follow the laws of the legislature, the legislature can abolish them,” said Hammer.

The outcome of the court battle against punishments for local officials who pass gun regulations will likely set the tone moving forward for how far lawmakers can go with preemption.

Integrity Florida said lawmakers could make it harder to pass preemptions by requiring a two-thirds majority vote, or mandating a single-subject rule, for preemption legislation, but state lawmakers aren’t known for limiting their own power.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill that would have prevented local governments from banning plastic straws.

Integrity Florida says it was a positive sign, but the Governor has favored preemption in other cases, including the ban on sanctuary cities signed into law last year.

Copyright 2020 Capitol News Service. All rights reserved.