Senate passes, sends ‘ultimate’ preemption bills to House

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate voted Thursday largely along party lines to pass a pair of pro-business bills that are a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson.

The bills, described as the “ultimate” preemption bills by some supporters and opponents, boost challenges to local ordinances that harm businesses. The Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties had opposed the bills but dropped their resistance amid changes.

The Senate voted 28-8 to pass FL SB 280(22R), which requires local governments to create a business impact statement and suspend an ordinance when it faces a legal challenge within 90 days.

And senators voted 22-14 to approve FL SB(620)22R, which allows businesses to sue when a charter amendment or ordinance causes at least a 15 percent loss of income or profits.

Both bills now go to the House, where their companion bills each have passed their first of three committee stops.

Cities and counties dropped their opposition to SB 280 last week. Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) sponsored both bills.

Both faced opposition from Senate Democrats who argued that while the bills were improved, they still would create uncertainties for cities and counties and infringe on local elected officials.

“I urge you to stand up for home rule stand up for our local governments, let’s recognize the diversity that there is in this state and vote no on this bill,” Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Fort Lauderdale) said.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), the designated Senate president for the 2023-24 sessions, said the bill is the “perfect concept” that creates a fast track legal process to keep legal disputes at the local level.

“Our hope — all of us I believe — is to get out of the preemption business,” she said.

Simpson told his chamber at the opening of the 2022 legislative session that he hears the concerns of cities and counties about legislative preemptions but will ensure they pay businesses for damages caused by local regulations.

“Private sector businesses, not the government, create the jobs and provide the goods and services our communities need to thrive,” Simpson said in a statement Thursday after the bills passed.

The Legislature in recent years has banned local governments from regulating vegetable gardens in front yards, sunscreens to protect coral reefs or cruise ships to protect water quality.

Cities and counties argued that the bills together as filed would allow a single business to block ordinances that may help other businesses or is needed to protect all residents.

SB 280 still would block cities from enforcing ordinances when challenged. But the bill was rewritten in a committee two weeks ago to authorize judges to lift those stays and to punish those who file frivolous challenges.

SB 620 was amended Thursday on the Senate floor to limit business damages to seven years of future lost profits. Legislators also rewrote the bill to allow local governments to grant ordinance waivers to avoid paying damages. They also deleted a requirement that cities and counties pay attorney fees for businesses that prevail.

Hutson said on the Senate floor Thursday that the bills were filed so that “preemption bills will not be filed ever, ever again because that fight is going be handled down there [locally].”

The League of Cities, in dropping its opposition Thursday to the SB 620, said it shares the goal of reducing preemption bills filed in the future.

“The bill is far from perfect, and will certainly have unintended consequences,” Rebecca O’Hara, the League’s deputy general counsel, said in an email. “Our change in position simply recognizes the sponsor’s efforts to accommodate many of our concerns.”

Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine, who is president-elect of the Florida Association of Counties, said it would be “premature” for him to state a position for the counties but added that improvements had been made to the bill.

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