The Florida Legislature convened last week and, once again, the 60-day legislative session will be marked by power struggles with cities and counties as state lawmakers have submitted more than 40 bills that cuff local government regulatory authority or cede municipal control to the state.

While many preemption bills will “fall to the wayside” as the session progresses, two proposals in particular present “troublesome” issues for Florida’s 67 counties and 412 municipalities, the Lakeland City Commission was warned Friday by its Tallahassee lobbyist, David Shepp of Tampa-based The Southern Group.

Senate Bill 280, sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, would require cities and counties conduct an economic impact analysis before adopting any new ordinance.

“This is troublesome” because economic impact statements are time-consuming and expensive to produce and such a requirement could potentially allow, if not incentivize, businesses “to delay implementation of new ordinances” by challenging the analyses in court, Shepp said.

“Every local government is worried about this. You can feel the level of concern,” agreed Commissioner Chad McLeod at a Friday commission work session with Shepp. McLeod noted “there is optimism” that lobbying by the Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties and local government leaders will mitigate some concerns.

SB 280 is being fast-tracked in the Senate. It advanced 6-2 Jan. 12 through the Community Affairs Committee and awaits only a Jan. 20 hearing before the Rules Committee to reach the chamber floor.

Its House companion, House Bill 403, filed by Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, has moved through one House panel has has two more committee hearings on its docket.

SB 620, which would allow businesses to sue counties and cities for enacting ordinances they allege caused a 15% reduction in their profits dating back three years, is also “a major concern” for local governments, Shepp said.

The bill, sponsored by Hutson as well, is also being fast-tracked. It has already advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits only a hearing before the Rules Committee to get onto the chamber floor. 

Its House companion, HB 569, filed by Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Plant City, advanced 12-5 last week through House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee and awaits hearings before the chamber’s Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and Judiciary Committee.

Shepp said it appears proponents are seeking to induce “a major fight between local governments and the business community” by introducing these bills, but it “is a very passionate issue” uniformly opposed by local leaders statewide.

He noted “the same senator” — Hutson — is carrying the preemption bills this session, as he did last year.

Hutson sponsored three Senate proposals during the 2021 session that were eventually adopted as House bills and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis that voided local restrictions on types of fuel sources a utility may supply in new development, banned local governments from regulating “energy infrastructure” altogether and limited local regulation of solar installation.

Last Tuesday, the day the session convened in Tallahassee, was the last day to file bills. “For the most part, we know the playing field in terms of legislation” for the next 60 says, although committee bills can surface, Shepp said.

Other potentially problematic bills, from the city’s perspective, include SB 1162, filed by Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Pensacola, and its House companion, HB 621, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay.

The bills would prohibit state agencies and Florida’s five state water management districts from disbursing state funds, including grants, for local government infrastructure, water and resiliency projects if that local government “transfers utility revenues from a government-owned utility for general operations and services.”

The city-owned Lakeland Electric produces dividends and, thus, SB 1162/HB 621 “in its current form is a major concern” for Lakeland, McLeod said.

“There is an opportunity to work with the sponsors,” Shepp said, but noted how the bill could affect Polk Regional Water Cooperative (PRWC) and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SwiftMud) “is a gray area we want to keep an eye on.”

SB 510, sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, and companion, HB 301, filed by Rep. Spencer Roach, R-Naples, would require financial disclosure for local officials, including commission/council members, mayors and city/county managers.

By the reaction from local government officials, the bills “are not really a problem,” Shepp said.

The good news, he said, is there are opportunities during the legislative session to advance city goals, including HB 2243, filed by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, seeking $5 million for construction of Lakeland’s Se7en Wetlands Educational Center and HB 2243, the proposed ‘Heartland Headwaters Protection & Sustainabilty Act’ sponsored by Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, which would pump $20 million a year into projects through Florida Forever’s land acquistion fund.

There is also “a great opportunity for a new courthouse in Lakeland” with the potential reshuffling of the state’s District Court of Appeals structure, Shepp said.

The commission is scheduled to formally adopt its full slate of legislative priorities when it meets today at 9 a.m. in City Hall, 228 S. Massachusetts Ave.

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