More than 20 Mayors urge Gov. DeSantis to veto ‘Local Business Protection Act’

Twenty-one Mayors from across Florida are making one last push to convince Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto legislation they say will inhibit the ability of county and municipal governments to respond to public needs.

The bill in question (SB 620), named the “Local Business Protection Act,” creates a cause of action for businesses to seek damages from local governments if they can prove a new ordinance caused a 15% income loss in one year.

Eligible companies that have operated for at least three years in a jurisdiction would be able to recover expert-determined sums unless the municipality or county in question rescinds the ordinance.

The Legislature passed the bill March 9. It awaits DeSantis’ signature.

In their letter, the group of Mayors contend the bill will prevent local governments from passing responsible and popular local laws affecting an array of issues, from the environment and housing to public health and vacation rental rules.

“Even worse, it would have a devastating impact on Florida residents, who would be forced to pay for lawsuits that businesses use to threaten local lawmakers,” the letter said. “This bill gives too much leverage to local or multinational businesses in the creation and stalling of legislation designed to promote the public good in their community.”

They wrote: “As Mayors, we recognize the vital importance of local businesses and their contributions to our communities. They are the lifeblood of our local economies and are our neighbors. However, this bill sets the stage for abuse, more frivolous lawsuits, taxpayer dollars wasted.”

Proponents like Dover Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure, who carried the item’s House companion (HB 569), say it will impel governments to more carefully consider how the new rules they pass will affect local industry.

“Until you haven’t slept because you’re worried about making payroll or wondering how you’re going to service debt or where the next customer is going to come from, I don’t really want to hear how tough it is to be a local government official that can enact ordinances that cause further pain of the private sector,” he said in defense of the bill.

Critics argue it will have a chilling effect on local government efforts to follow through on the will of their electorate. Recent examples include Miami Beach, where 56% of voters in November said they favored moving up the last call for alcohol sales by three hours, and Key West, where voters called for smaller cruise vessels that cause less environmental damage than their larger counterparts.

Local governments can still do that, but they’ll have to do it more gradually, said St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, the man behind SB 620.

“Let’s say the bar has been operating at 2 a.m. and there’s a compelling interest to move them down,” he told Florida Politics in January. “If you start at midnight and then realize, ‘Oh, there’s a 15% damage or more,’ then maybe you have that conversation before you pass your ordinance and (instead) move it to 1 a.m. the first year. Then, the next year, you move it to midnight.

“You can still piecemeal these ordinances to get to where you want to go. It’s just not a quick snap to a business so they’re not left behind in the dust.”

The letter’s signatories include Mayors Sandra Bradbury of Pinellas Park, Elaine Brown of Neptune Beach, Julie Ward Bujalski of Dunedin, John Chappie of Bradenton Beach, Joy Cooper of Hallandale Beach, Dave Gattis of Belleair Beach, Olga Gonzalez of Kissimmee, John Hendricks of Madeira Beach, Derrick Henry of Daytona Beach, Tamara James of Dania Beach, John Lowndes of Maitland, Merrit Matheson of Stuart, Bill Mutz of Lakeland, Tyler Payne of Treasure Island, Lauren Poe of Gainesville, Grover Robinson of Pensacola, Don Samora of St. Augustine Beach, Ken Thurston of Lauderhill, Judy Titsworth of Holmes Beach, Dean Trantalis of Fort Lauderdale and David Will of Redington Beach.

In a statement, James called the bill — which Florida TaxWatch estimated could cost local governments $900 million annually and attract a host of “malicious lawsuits” — a “cost-burdensome bill that will impact city budgets and our taxpayers.”

“Our environment and businesses evolve daily, which requires cities to pass laws affecting our environment and so much more,” she said.

Hunter Miller, a Florida field representative for ocean conservancy nonprofit Oceana, warned SB 620 will make it harder for local officials to pass laws protecting the state’s waterways and marine life.

“Essential local policies such as reducing the use of single-use plastics and waste management,” he said, “could all be litigated and suspended if SB 620 is passed.”


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