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Florida's preemption bill proceeds, but critics say it could handcuff local governments

The Florida Senate Chambers.
The Florida Senate Chambers.

One of the bills attracting attention during the legislative session in Tallahassee would allow local governments to be sued if their ordinances cause a business to lose money.

It's being called "The preemption bill to end all preemption bills."

The bill would force local governments to study the economic impact of all proposed laws. Businesses that claim at least a 15% reduction in their revenue could sue the city or county for damages. It would also force the governments to pay their attorney fees of up to $50,000.

Jane West is policy and planning director for the smart-growth advocacy group 1,000 Friends of Florida. During a webinar, she said Florida Tax Watch has determined the bill could cost local governments more than $900 million annually.

"It basically amounts to a hidden tax that will be imposed on Florida taxpayers," she said, "who will be forced to subsidize the inherent risk of doing business."

Backers of the bill say it would eliminate the need for the state government to enact any more preemption bills. Opponents say it would tie the hands of local governments.

 1,000 Friends of Florida graphic on effects of the preemption bill
1,000 Friends of Florida
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1,000 Friends of Florida graphic on effects of the preemption bill

1,000 Friends of Florida also called attention to bills that would guarantee funding for the state's main land conservation program, Florida Forever.

A House bill amendment is recommending the program get $100 million this coming year. That's a $250 million decrease from what had been originally proposed.

This amendment and a companion bill in the Senate are still being debated. But Paul Owens, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, says time is running out.

"We think the floor should be much higher. At least the $350 million that the House bill started with," Owens said. "But we also see value in putting a guaranteed funding level for this critical program in state law."

In 2014, voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution that required one-third of all real estate tax transactions be used to conserve land. Owens says lawmakers have routinely ignored that mandate.

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.