Upset by what they see as a state drive to usurp the power of local governments, Volusia County leaders are sounding the alarm about a bill recently passed by the Florida Legislature.
“This right here could affect every local government in the state,” County Council Member and former Sheriff Ben Johnson said, adding the bill comes out of “Tallahassee, Alabama.”
The Volusia County Council voted to send Gov. Ron DeSantis a letter pleading for him to veto the bill that would allow business owners to sue counties and cities if local laws lessen private profits.
Senate Bill 620, known as the Local Business Protection Act, awaits action by DeSantis. The measure would permit businesses to sue local governments that enact ordinances that cause a loss of profits.
“The loss of profit must be at least 15 percent,” Assistant County Attorney Paolo Soria said.
What is a good example? Perhaps, Soria noted, an ordinance dealing with the hours of operation for businesses that serve alcoholic beverages.
“If you have a bar that is open till 5 a.m., or if you own an adult-entertainment facility … they could show you damaged my profit,” he said.
Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, introduced SB 620, which both houses of the Legislature passed during the general session. Hutson represents Senate District 7, which encompasses St. Johns and Flagler counties and the northern portion of Volusia County.
The seven-page bill establishes a process for business owners to file lawsuits against cities or counties whose ordinances or charter provisions cause a reduction in profits.
The pending measure would apply to a business owner who has been engaged in lawful business for three years preceding the enactment of a profit-dropping law. The business owner may use records such as federal income-tax returns, balance sheets or profit-and-loss statements to support their claim for damages.
“This is nothing but Tallahassee stripping all local control,” Johnson said.
SB 620 creates a process for claiming damages, including a requirement for an aggrieved business owner to give 180 days’ notice of intention to file an action. There is also a provision for settling claims.
The bill Includes exemptions for local governments if they adopt emergency ordinances following natural disasters, or if they move to comply with state or federal mandates. In addition, if a city or county adopts state-required changes in building or fire-safety codes, these actions are not grounds for claiming a loss.
Other exemptions include the implementation of growth-management policies and the adoption of a city or county budget, along with “revenue sources necessary to fund the budget.”
Nevertheless, the County Council is calling upon DeSantis to veto SB 620.
“Each year, the Florida Legislature chips away at the authority of elected city and county representatives,” the county’s letter states. “But the Legislature is not local government. While the Legislature meets for a few months a year, local governments typically hold public meetings every two weeks and consider public input at every meeting. Local government is the closest to the voters and its legislative authority has an important role in our democracy.”
The county’s letter goes on to warn SB 620, if enacted, “would undermine the ability of local governments to adopt ordinances regulating local issues such as:
“— adult entertainment activities;
“— the hours and activities of bars and night clubs that may abut residential neighborhoods;
“the hours and activities of certain late night businesses that abut residential neighborhoods;
“— animal-control measures including provisions on puppy mills;
“— measures against internet cafe/sweepstakes that are operating as slot machines;
“— nuisance protections, such as noise ordinances.”
“These are issues that generate concerns by residents that are best handled by local government, not Tallahassee. SB 620 is bad policy and undermines the quality of life our residents deserve,” the county’s letter reads.
County Council Member Heather Post described the decision to oppose the bill as “a no-brainer.”
As well as opposing the state bill, Post proposed the county “really look inward and see how we can help our businesses.”
In the council’s April 19 discourse on SB 620 and home rule, Johnson suggested changing the shape of Florida, so as to eliminate Tallahassee as the Sunshine State’s capital.
“Sometimes I think the best thing would be to give everything west of the Suwannee River to Alabama,” Johnson said.