We know that real, transformative change happens from the ground up. As the Florida State Legislature continues to stifle local democracy and silence local voices, Local Progress Florida members representing communities across Florida gathered in Tallahassee last week to speak on behalf of their communities.
Attending members included Tallahassee City Commissioner Jack Porter, former Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana, Coral Springs Commissioner Nancy Metayer Bowen, former Commissioner At-Large for the City of Gainesville Gail Johnson and Miami-Dade Community Council Board Member Kelli-Ann Thomas.
LPFL members met with state representatives, testified at hearings, and strategized together to achieve the best path forward for everyday Floridians. Each and every step of the way, members are coordinating with and working alongside community partners, including Florida Housing Justice Alliance, Community Justice Project, Florida Watch, Progress Florida, Floridians for Reproductive Freedom, Florida AFL-CIO, and so many more.
Florida is a home-rule state, yet the Republican-controlled State Legislature continues to strip as much power from local governments as possible. Whether it’s taking away localities’ ability to address their residents’ housing needs, protect their vulnerable populations, fund their public schools, or conserve their natural resources – it’s critical to remember that in each of these examples of abusive state interference, the will of everyday Floridians is being not only ignored, but directly contradicted.
Members met with more than ten state senators and representatives to discuss the bills that pose the greatest threat to their local democracy. In particular, they focused on SB 170/HB 1515, which would essentially give corporations veto power over local governments and their communities’ priorities by giving businesses the power to file lawsuits simply for the purpose of stalling the effect of, or overturning, properly passed local ordinances. LPFL members stressed that this preemption bill is so broad in scope that it would have a chilling effect on their ability to legislate fairly and effectively, and thus, respond to their communities’ needs.
Members also focused on a myriad of housing preemption bills, including SB 102/HB 627, which would entirely prohibit local governments from capping rent hikes – a common-sense, evidence-based policy option that 8 in 10 Floridians support. State Legislators also spoke with our members about SB 494/HB 133, which would allow landlords to charge renters yet another fee (this time with no cap on cost or end dates), and SB 1586/HB 1417, which would gut any protections offered to tenants by local governments – shifting all power over these protections to the state.
One LPFL member and two LP staff members testified before the FL House Judiciary Committee against SB 1586/HB 1417. Former Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana stressed that this bill directly contradicts what Floridians want and need. “Data shows that Floridians support renter protections in undeniable margins,” she said. LP Deputy Organizing Director Francesca Menes zeroed in on a massive flaw in the bill. “The language in this bill on existing renter protections is NOT clear,” she said. “I’d encourage you to clarify that.” And LP Legal Fellow Vishal Reddy grounded folks in the important role local governments play during an affordable housing crisis. “During times like these, every single level of government matters to keep Floridians housed,” he said.
Local governments are critical tools for addressing our climate crisis, but the Florida State Legislature has filed multiple bills this session aimed at taking away their ability to do so. Members spoke with state senators and representatives to stress that they must retain the ability to address their localities’ unique climate needs. In particular, they condemned HB 1217/SB 1238 because it would prohibit local policy for more resilient buildings, home energy improvements, and clean vehicles. And they condemned HB 1197/SB 1240 because it would undermine local attempts to improve water quality by making it much harder for local governments to prevent pollution.
Finally, LPFL members spoke up for their immigrant communities. The Florida State Legislature is attacking and dehumanizing millions of Floridians for whom everyday life can already be a challenge, while simultaneously taking away the power of local government to help support these individuals. Members focused on HB 1617/SB 1718, which takes aim at undocumented immigrants in a myriad of ways, but perhaps the most damning is its provision to prohibit local governments from providing funds for community IDs. Having a form of identification is necessary for so many critical aspects of daily life, and for many, obtaining a valid ID is nearly impossible. This bill would leave millions of Floridians without a valid ID – facing insurmountable hurdles for everyday activities.
Throughout their time together in Tallahassee, members and partners alike drove home this overarching message: Local elected officials are best placed to meet local needs. They know their constituents personally. They understand – and share – their constituents’ concerns and values. That’s why it’s critical that local governments retain the flexibility to address their communities’ unique local needs. As Legislative Session winds down, LPFL will continue to organize local elected officials across the state to push back on abusive state interference.