Protecting Home Rule

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The Florida League of Cities 

During our interview with former Vice-Mayor Dan Andre, shortly after he’d stepped down from the Council dais, he told us about the work he’d been doing with the Florida League of Cities and what an important organization it is for small towns like ours, because its members champion the idea of home rule. The League of Cities also spends a great deal of time tracking trends in the Florida Legislature and calls attention to what may adversely affect small communities long before the outcry hits the news. During their annual conference held last August, members compiled the following list of the most important issues for this year’s legislative session. The issues are followed by their outcome at the close of this year’s session.

Relocation of Utilities

The Florida League of Cities opposes any legislation that would force local governments and their taxpayers to pay for the cost of relocating utility equipment when said equipment is located in a public right of way and is being relocated for public purposes. Traditionally, state law has provided local government with the authority to require non-government utilities to pay to relocate their equipment, thus making road improvement projects much easier, but some courts have found that utility equipment located in rights of way are for the use of the public and therefore the utility should not have to pay for it to be moved.

Outcome: SB 416, proposed by Anitere Flores R, Miami-Dade, requires local governments, and not utilities, to bear the cost of relocating a utility’s equipment if such equipment is located within a public utility easement. SB 416 was approved by the governor on March 10, 2016.

Local Communication Services Tax Protection

The League supports legislation that protects revenues collected from the local communication services tax, which provides new revenue streams through fees on telecommunications and cable bills.

Outcome: SB 256, proposed by Senator Dorothy Hukill, Republican from central Florida would have reduced the state portion of the communications services tax (CST) rates by 2.0 percent. The bill died in committee.

Vacation Rentals

The League supports legislation that repeals the state preemption of vacation rental properties in order to allow local governments to regulate such properties to protect the health and welfare of residents, visitors and businesses. In 2011 the Florida Legislature prohibited cities from regulating short-term vacation rentals – defined as being any property that is rented more than three times a year for less that 30 days at a time. The 2011 legislation included a provision for ‘grandfathering’ any ordinance related to short-term rentals prior to June 11, 2011. In 2014, the Legislature passed a new law allowing local governments to adopt ordinances related to short-term rentals so they could address issues of noise, parking and safety. However, that bill left language in place stating that cities cannot prohibit vacation rentals or regulate their frequency.

Outcome: HB 4045, proposed by Representative David Richardson, Democrat from Miami Beach and SB 1598 from Senator Gwen Margolis, Miami-Dade, would have repealed the preemption currently prohibiting local governments from regulating duration, frequency or location of vacation rentals. HB 4045 died in committee. SB 1598 was withdrawn from further consideration.

Public Private Partnerships

The League supports legislation allowing municipalities greater flexibility in entering into public-private-partnership agreements, called P3’s. Prior to 2013, Florida had become a leader in their use, and P3 projects such as design-build became commonplace, but in 2013 a law was passed that standardized the P3 framework and enacted restrictions. It also established a P3 task force that worked closely with the League of Cities though none of the groups’ recommendations promoting local government flexibility were passed by the Legislature in 2015.

Outcome: SB 124, proposed by Greg Evers, a Republican from the panhandle, ‘amends the statutory framework that local governments must adhere to when engaging in public-private partnerships (P3s)’. The legislation provides supplemental authority to local governments, thereby allowing cities to rely on Home Rule authority to enter into P3 agreements or follow the process in Florida statutes. This crucial change encourages cities that have not undertaken a P3 project in the past to follow the state statute, but allows those experienced in this procurement method to rely on their established procedures. Finally, the legislation authorizes local governments to collect a fee, as determined by local ordinance, to cover the costs associated with reviewing unsolicited proposals. SB 124 was passed by the Florida Senate and House and is awaiting final action by the governor.

Water Quality & Quantity

The League supports legislation that would provide a recurring source of funding for local government projects that protect water resources, improves water quality, mitigates pollution from waste systems and expands the use of alternative water resources.

Outcome: SB 552 , proposed by Senator Charlie Dean – a Republican from the state’s ‘elbow’ area, makes substantial changes to laws governing water quality and water supply. The bill establishes requirements and strategies for the protection of First Magnitude Springs (Outstanding Florida Springs). The bill amends requirements for the development of Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) and associated strategies for improving impaired bodies of water. In addition, the bill makes numerous changes to water supply and water resource development programs and requirements, including Minimum Flows and Levels, Consumptive Use Permits, alternative water supply development and regional water supply plans. SB 552 was signed by the governor on January 21, and goes into effective on July 1, 2016.

Sea Level Rise

Recognizing the fact that Florida has the longest coastline in the contiguous United States (1,350 miles), The League supports legislation that encourages vulnerability assessments, coordinates resources and allows local governments to mitigate and adapt to changing conditions.

The League believes this is a much more diverse topic than simply sea level rise – for instance, communities on the southeast coast are prone to seasonal high tides that lead to saltwater intrusion into downtown areas, sewers, canals and pools. A study released by the Risky Business Project warns that Florida has more private property at risk from flooding than any other state.

In 2015, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that requires comprehensive plans to include in their coastal management elements, ‘development and redevelopment principles, strategies and engineering solutions that reduce the flood risk in coastal areas which result from high-tide events, storm surge, flash floods, stormwater runoff and the related impacts of sea level rise’.

This year, however, no progress was made on this issue.

Outcome: SB 584, proposed by Senator Jeff Brandes – a Republican from Pinellas County, and HB929 from Representative Larry Ahern – Republican from Seminole – would have authorized a matching grant program to provide up to $50 million in technical and financial assistance (subject to appropriations) to local governments to implement certain flood risk reduction policies and projects. The bills died in committee.

HB 1223 proposed by Representative Kristin Diana Jacobs – a Democrat from Coconut Creek and SB 1544 , from Senator Jeff Clemens, Democrat from Palm Beach, would have created a “natural hazards” interagency working group for the purpose of state agencies sharing information and coordinating on current and potential impacts of natural hazards, including extreme heat, drought, wildfire, sea-level change, high tides, storm surge, saltwater intrusion, stormwater runoff, flash floods, inland flooding and coastal flooding. The bills died in committee.

The Florida League of Cities has a diverse and user-friendly website that includes all the legislation the group works on and whether or not they support it – www.floridaleagueofcities.com.

An issue that both Andre and former Council member Alan Mandel lobbied hard for, and is championed by the League of Cities is allowing local municipalities to levy their own sales tax so that visitors help pay for infrastructure used by everyone. We contacted new Mayor Dennis Boback to see if the new Council would be pursuing this issue, and he told us he thought it was a great idea when he first brought it to Council in 2006, and he still does.

“I’m 100% for it, and look forward to lobbying for it again,” Boback said. “This would be great because  – in a tourist town like ours you have some 5,000 year-round residents footing the bill for everything. Being allowed to collect our own sales tax would help a lot.”

 

Keri Hendry Weeg