Localities Stand up for Local Control as HB 1 is Challenged in Court

Local governments are closest to communities. It is critical that they are able to make policy and budgetary decisions that respond to our communities’ most pressing needs. 

That is why in November of 2021, eight Florida cities filed a lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis and others challenging the legality of HB 1, Florida’s anti-protest and anti-local control law. Today at 1:30pm ET in Tallahassee, Florida, the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida will hold a hearing to determine the fate of this dangerous law. 

HB 1 undermines both free speech and assembly, and the ability of local governments to pass budgets responsive to their communities’ needs. It was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on April 19, 2021. The law violates Florida’s constitution, as it aims to criminalize protest and punish local governments if they try to reduce law enforcement budgets. That’s why these eight cities sued – because the law infringes on their ability to reform their budgets, stifling both innovation and community conversation around the reimagining of policing in their communities. LiJia Gong, Policy at Legal Director at Local Progress, explained the implications. 

“The city basically loses control of its budget…this is classic preemption,” she explained.

Preemption is when a higher level of government, such as state government, limits the power of a lower level of government, such as local government. Preemption, while not inherently bad, is abused by many states to undermine local control and the will of local communities. And that’s precisely what’s happening here – HB 1 is a prime example of a targeted abuse of preemption

It’s also important to note that HB 1 was passed in direct response to the racial justice protests of 2020, following the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others at the hands of police across the country. As calls for police reform became louder and more urgent, Governor DeSantis responded with HB 1 to repress any forthcoming reforms. Local Progress’ Francesca Menes, Deputy Organizing Director, explains the connection. 

“This is simple cause and effect,” Francesca explained. “When our communities started to demand more and started to demand better in the wake of a national racial reckoning, the governor of Florida took away a critical tool in our toolbox – the power to affect change through our local budget process. The tool required to make the changes we need has been stripped away and communities are paying attention.”

Communities are indeed paying attention, and noticing how this law is impacting their communities. David Kaplan, 16-year-old Gainesville resident and organizer for the Education Equity Advocates of Alachua County, observed the stifling impact of HB 1 in action during a recent peaceful demonstration for educational equity. 

“With HB 1 looming over our heads, some members stayed home and those who attended admitted to being nervous about not understanding the line between what’s a rally and what’s a riot,” he said. “So speaking to you today as a Gainesville resident and advocate, I personally see that HB 1 has had a chilling effect on community input.” 

This chilling effect has mobilized Floridians alike to fight back. Francesca detailed the community response. 

“People mobilizing anger, Black lives being murdered at the hands of law enforcement, and communities organizing, mobilizing, envisioning, reimagining what public safety looks like to them.”

Organizing. Mobilizing. Envisioning. Reimagining. Across Florida and across the country, communities stood up to fight back against HB 1. 

Gail Johnson, Local Progress Florida organizing committee member and former Gainesville City Commissioner, describes how community organizing played a critical role in the success of the fight against the law.

“Despite all of the undermining and interference, we prevailed,” Gail said. “And I believe it was because of the organizing and community support.”  

Today, over a year of organizing and community support comes to fruition, as the case will be heard by a court for the first time. The eight city plaintiffs are: Gainesville, Lake Worth Beach, Lauderhill, Miramar, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Tallahassee, and Wilton Manors. They are represented by Public Rights Project, Community Justice Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firm of Jenner & Block, which is providing pro bono assistance.

As we patiently await the results, we stand in solidarity with these eight cities and people across the country who are rightly worried about this troubling trend of efforts to limit, prevent, and criminalize participatory democracy.

In the meantime, for more information on HB1 and how to fight back, check out the following resources: