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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida Lawmakers Look To Limit Local Executive Orders

Erich Martin

The bill's sponsor says it is intended to to protect local residents from mayors or city managers who enact long-lasting executive orders that some say could infringe on personal rights.

A measure to limit the scope of executive orders by local leaders is garnering support in the Senate, with some lawmakers saying it will prevent local governments from stepping on personal freedoms. The bill recently passed its second committee stop on a party line vote with Democrats in opposition.

Under the measure executive orders would be reviewed after 10 days by local city and county commissions. Those groups would have to vote on whether to continue the order. According to bill sponsor, Sen. Manny Diaz (R-Hialeah Gardens), the proposal is meant to protect local residents from mayors or city managers who enact long-lasting executive orders that some say could infringe on personal rights. The measure is a response to local orders during the pandemic. Democrats worry the bill takes power away from local governments when they may need it the most, but Diaz said the measure is meant to act as a check on a local leaders' power.

“The intent is not to take away local control, but it is to share the power locally between one person and the local elected body,” said Diaz.

Diaz said he felt the need to propose this bill after seeing how some local executives reacted during the pandemic.

“One person too often during this pandemic has been able to make the decision to close that small business, and while some opinions may be that small business shouldn’t be open and it’s dangerous, I don’t think that we should be the arbiters of how someone can continue their livelihood during this pandemic,” said Diaz

A provision under the bill will allow the governor or the state legislature to invalidate a local order that restricts a resident’s constitutional rights. What that means is not defined in the legislation. Sen. Janet Cruz (D-Tampa) voted against the bill.

“We have to ask ourselves, folks do we support big government or do we support local government? You know it seems like were trying to exercise state control in situations to preserve liberty when in reality we’re taking power from local governments that are closest to people they represent, and that doesn’t seem like an affront to our democratic system,” said Cruz

Democrats are also concerned with bill language regarding a mandatory commission vote after the executive order's tenth day. Often time those orders are made after natural disasters like hurricanes. Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) asked Diaz how such a vote would take place if physical conditions don’t allow for it. Diaz says he will work with Sen. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) who is pushing a separate emergency management bill.

“I’m going to lean on Senator Burgess as we go forward with this in the process to make sure that we get a product that we could all be proud of, and it strikes the balance of sharing the power amongst those local officials especially the local elected officials, and not allow for one person just to continue on to renew order and to make sure that they’re narrowly tailored,” said Diaz.

The bills now heads to it’s final committee stop in the chamber.

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Kevin Del Orbe
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