Bill allowing companies to sue local government clears final committee

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A proposal that would allow business owners to sue local governments if they pass new laws that hurt their wallets was approved by its final committee on Thursday, despite fierce opposition from local government advocates.

The measure (SB 620) creates a cause of action for companies at least 3 years old who can prove that a new law caused a 15% loss of revenue. Eligible businesses would be entitled to recover damages determined by experts unless a city chooses to overturn the order.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the measure with a largely partisan 11-7 vote. republican senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg voted against the measure, making him the only lawmaker to break party ranks.

“If (a) business has been running for a while…and you’re doing something that’s hurting them, you should at least return them whole or pay for the damage you’ve done to them,” the Palm Coast Republican said. Sen. Travis Hutson, the sponsor of the bill.

Those opposed to the measure — city and county commissioners as well as home rule supporters — voiced concerns throughout the roughly 90-minute meeting.

The bill will undoubtedly burden cities, for example, with bans on sunscreen or plastic bags and limitations on bar opening hours, supporters said. But it will also handcuff governments and further limit their ability to deal with more pressing issues, they asserted.

In public remarks, Florida League of Cities Legislative Advocate Rebecca O’Hara reminded lawmakers of the early stages of the opioid epidemic in 2010.

At the time, Florida stood out as the capital of the “pill factory” after pharmacies took advantage of the lack of state regulation. And in the absence of state regulation, O’Hara said it’s up to local governments to act.

“Local governments couldn’t have done anything about it because they would have faced potential damage claims from these pill factories,” she argued.

Democratic lawmakers also lamented the bill. Jacksonville Sen. Audrey Gibson cities, rather than the state, know local issues better.

“We can’t see every community, every street, every block, every corner, in every one of our districts from here,” Gibson said. “And in that regard, I don’t think we should then tie the hands of those on the ground in their communities.”

Democratic senator. Linda Stewart of Orlando noted that Hutson is working with skeptics to iron out the wrinkles in the bill. Hutson introduced an amendment to limit damages after hearing from opponents.

Nevertheless, Stewart described the measure as “very inconvenient”.

“I don’t know if I have the words for this bill,” Stewart said. “I know that local government preemption is something that absolutely must be avoided.”

Notably, Brandes — a term Republican — was among the most vocal opponents. He criticized the measure’s hypocrisy, arguing that lawmakers would never pass a bill to enact a cause of action against the state.

He also criticized the proposal as an untested “crazy experiment” that threatens to bankrupt smaller jurisdictions.

“It’s a bad bill,” Brandes said. “It’s a bad idea. It’s never been tried anywhere. We shouldn’t be the first experimental case of this. And our little towns and our little counties are ultimately the ones that are going to be the guinea pigs,” Brandes said. .

Hutson’s proposal now awaits full Senate consideration. If enacted, it will come into force on July 1.

Earlier today, a related and equally controversial bill from Hutson, SB 280, also cleared its final hurdle in the Senate amid heavy criticism and condemnation from local officials, interest groups and state lawmakers.

The bill would require local governments to write a report for each proposed order detailing the estimated economic impact on businesses, including how many businesses the order would affect and how much it would cost them to comply.

“This bill doesn’t tell an elected official to vote yes or no,” Hutson said. “What it does is it gives them more information.”

However, the measure also provides that if a company takes legal action – which would freeze the order in question until a court issues an expedited decision on the matter – the local government, if it loses, would be responsible for up to $50,000 of the legal part of this business. costs.

Speaking against the bill in the Senate Rules Committee, Democratic senator. Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale called the provisions of SB 280 currently written “crippling and too paternalistic” for local governments. The bill, he said, presents a “plethora of problems” that need to be addressed.

“We have to trust our local officials,” he said. “We are here in this bubble for such long periods of time. They are the ones who, at home, meet constituents at the grocery store, at the pharmacy (and) have to deal with the problems that affect their community. And we basically tie both of their hands behind their backs and they have to fight with their noses.

republican senator Kathleen Passidomo said she “couldn’t disagree more” with Farmer’s assessment. The bill, she said, “provides the tools for local governments to look at what they’re doing to determine whether it’s going to work or not, and it creates a process for (state lawmakers) have come out of the pre-emption business.

There’s another way to do this, say Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for Florida’s AFL-CIO: Stop filing preemption bills.

“When Capitol lobbyists come to you and try to get you to overturn what people are doing in their communities, say, ‘No, we’re going to leave that to the people in their communities,'” he said. “But that stops the preemption bills, because you’re delegating individuals to do the preemption.”

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Florida Politics’ Jesse Scheckner contributed to this report.


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