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Bills allowing businesses to sue local government over ordinances pass through the Senate

Florida Public Employees Partnership.

Senate Bill 620, now known as the Local Business Protection Act, and its accompanying bill (SB 280) passed the Senate on Thursday afternoon. If they become law, businesses would be able to sue local governments if they believe an ordinance led to a 15% loss of profits.

Earlier this month, SB 620 sparked debate before the Senate Community Affairs Committee. Ida Eskamani of the Florida Immigrant Coalition outlined potential drawbacks were the bill to pass.

“Under this bill,” said Eskamani, “policies that are wildly popular, promote the public good, reward good business practices and serve blue collar workers such as reclaiming stolen wages, housing policies, responsible wage ordinances, hiring programs for disadvantaged communities, could all be stopped.”

Senator Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) expressed disappointment with the groups who oppose the plan. He equated that opposition with being anti-business.

“But if you listen to most of the debate comments today from the audience, businesses are evil,” Baxley said, “and yet they’re asked to pay the bill.”

SB 620 has undergone several changes, including a new provision that gives local governments the chance to prevent a lawsuit. Senator Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), who sponsored both bills, says the change was made with input from the Florida League of Cities and Association of Counties.

Local governments can repeal or amend their ordinances or grant a waiver to a business to avoid being taken to court. The League of Cities initially opposed the measure, and while still wary of the effects of the legislation, the organization’s lobbyist says the proposal is better now than where it started.

“Primarily by giving local governments different options for addressing potential claims by businesses, providing that safe harbor,” said Rebecca O’Hara, deputy counsel for the League.

SB 620’s companion bill, SB 280, also passed the Senate. That bill requires local governments to assess the fiscal impact an ordinance would have on businesses. Sen. Gary Farmer (D-Broward) said on the Senate floor, “There’s just so much distinction and uniqueness in the various areas of our states that our local government needs to have the ability to do what they were elected to do, and that is govern.”

While both bills have been passed by the Senate, their house counterparts are currently in committee.

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Brett Rutherford