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DeSantis vetoes preemption bill that critics say would have handcuffed local governments

Florida State Capitol

The bill, dubbed by critics as the "the preemption bill to end all preemption bills" would have allowed businesses to sue cities and counties if their profits plummeted by more than 15 percent because of actions taken by municipalities.

A controversial measure that would have given businesses power to sue cities and counties to recoup lost profits was among five bills that Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed Friday.

While the veto of the business measure (SB 620) drew praise from local-government and environmental groups, DeSantis left open the door for lawmakers to consider similar, but more targeted, legislation in the future.

DeSantis on Friday also signed 32 bills that passed during the legislative session that ended in March. They included a bill that will allow cities and counties to restrict smoking at beaches and parks that they own (HB 105) and a pandemic-related measure that will prevent emergency orders “directly or indirectly” blocking religious institutions from conducting services or activities (SB 254).

In addition to the business bill, DeSantis’ vetoes included nixing a high-profile measure (SB 1796) that would have revamped the state’s alimony laws.

Senate leaders made a priority of the business bill, which would have allowed businesses to sue cities and counties if ordinances caused at least 15 percent losses of profits. In a veto letter, DeSantis suggested lawmakers take a different approach in the future to assist businesses.

DeSantis said local governments sometimes “unreasonably burden businesses through policies that range from the merely misguided to the politically motivated.”

“Indeed, this was illustrated by the bizarre and draconian measures adopted by some local governments during COVID-19, necessitating the state to overrule these edicts to protect freedom and opportunity for Floridians,” DeSantis wrote.

But DeSantis took issue with the bill being “broad and ambiguous,” which he said could result in “unintended and unforeseen consequences and costly litigation.” He suggested lawmakers pursue “targeted preemption legislation when local governments act in a way that frustrates state policy and/or undermines the rights of Floridians.”

Generally, preemption bills give the state control over issues that otherwise might be decided by local governments.

In supporting the veto, Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Tallahassee-based Florida TaxWatch, echoed that the legislation could have had “many unintended, yet significant, consequences.”

“In an already exceptionally litigious state like Florida, it would have resulted in an influx of financially motivated and malicious lawsuits, costing local governments more than $900 million annually,” Calabro said in the statement. “Local government’s only response would have been to either increase taxes or reduce services, and in both cases, this bill would have hurt hard-working taxpayers across the state.”

Paul Owens, president of the growth-management group 1000 Friends of Florida, called the veto a “clear victory for local leaders and their constituents.”

1000 Friends previously argued the measure “would have a chilling effect on the ability of local governments to regulate noise ordinances, parking, puppy mills, bar hours and more, and to address sea level rise and other critical issues facing our communities.”

The bill would have applied to businesses that have been in operation for at least three years and would have allowed them to file lawsuits seeking lost profits for seven years or the number of years the businesses had been in operation, whichever was less.

Before the bill passed in March, House sponsor Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, said it would cause local governments to “pause” before they enact ordinances that would hurt businesses.

City and county governments argued it would tie the hands of local governments from making changes sought by residents and even a majority of businesses.

Local governments from Escambia County to Palm Beach County requested DeSantis veto the measure.

The News Service of Florida
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