Local democracy is under threat in Florida: Cities must protect it | Opinion – South Florida Sun Sentinel
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As elected leaders in Gainesville, Tallahassee and North Miami Beach, we’ve seen our fair share of Florida’s political battles play out in our great cities. Last year, Florida state lawmakers introduced an avalanche of bills aimed at undermining local democracy and overriding local control of our cities. Instead of prioritizing the voices of Floridians in the communities where they live, Gov. Ron DeSantis has chosen statewide overreach and stifling reform.
Earlier this year, the governor signed into law a harmful and unconstitutional bill that preempts the most local of decisions — a city’s budget. HB 1 inserts the governor and the Cabinet into city budget decisions by creating a new process for appeals made directly to the state. HB 1 impacts every Florida city’s right to set its own budgets in line with the needs and values of its residents.
Now, Gainesville, Tallahassee and North Miami Beach have joined Lake Worth Beach, Lauderhill, Miramar, North Bay Village, North Miami and Wilton Manors in a lawsuit against the governor for violating the Florida Constitution with HB 1′s overstep and abuse of power. We filed this lawsuit because municipal budgeting is a core local authority that ensures local governments can respond to the needs and values of our communities. We cannot sit idly by while the governor attempts to take that power from our communities. We urge other cities across the state to join us.
HB 1 was hastily passed in direct response to the peaceful and powerful protests in the summer of 2020 that arose after the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Let’s be clear about HB 1′s purpose. The law was intended to stifle protests and stop local movements in their tracks. HB 1 criminalizes First Amendment activities and punishes local governments that support those calling for law enforcement reform.
HB 1 can also directly prevent any of those reforms from taking hold. The law disrupts local government by allowing for the governor to override decisions about law enforcement budgets. And it’s not just about “defunding the police.” Any reduction in law enforcement budgets could trigger a review by the state. HB 1 is so broad and so vague that a choice to reduce law enforcement budgets in any way — such as purchasing body cameras one year, but not the next — could be stopped by the state. As a result, every aspect of our budgetary process is affected. By injecting constant uncertainty into the local budget process, HB 1 harms our cities, our constituents and local democracy.
HB 1 is part of a pattern of overreach and power grabbing by Gov. DeSantis in order to silence communities that disagree with him. We’ve seen this same tactic over and over again, whether it’s school masking requirements, voting rights or protections for transgender Floridians — and all of that is just from the last legislative session.
HB 1 is also part of a broader national trend of abusive preemption laws. These state laws chip away at local power and make it impossible for cities to raise the minimum wage, protect civil rights, or give additional safeguards to tenants. When our communities cannot address the climate crisis, safeguard our health, protect consumers, pass local budgets, approve local referendums or act swiftly in emergencies, the lives and livelihoods of Floridians are at risk.
Our neighbors elected us to make the decisions that are right for our cities, but Gov. DeSantis’ string of preemption laws is eroding the constitutional rights of Floridians to have a strong voice in their local community’s budget. As we count down the days to the 2022 legislative session, we must stand firmly against those lawmakers in the statehouse who continue to deconstruct our right to home rule or our cities’ local democracies.
Our case is just underway. We are calling on our colleagues in other cities across Florida to join this crucial fight. This fight goes well beyond local budgets or our collective work to reimagine public safety. This is about whether our cities can be places where great ideas take hold and spark change that we need — not just in Florida but across the nation.
Lauren Poe is mayor of Gainesville, Jeremy Matlow is a commissioner on the Tallahassee City Commission, and McKenzie Fleurimond is a commissioner on the North Miami Beach City Commission.