Orlando’s attempts to regulate everything from Uber to drones to medical marijuana dispensaries have been overridden in recent months by the Legislature, to the frustration of city leaders.
On Monday, the City Council will vote to repeal an ordinance it passed in January to govern the use of unmanned aircraft in the city but which was rendered invalid by lawmakers in Tallahassee.
It’s part of what some local officials view as a troubling trend of state laws that erode the authority of city governments, which historically have enjoyed wide latitude to self-govern under the “home rule” principle, which is enshrined in the state Constitution.
“There are many decisions that are more appropriately made city-by-city and community-by-community,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. “What regulation is right or good for Miami-Dade is different than what you might want to do for Orlando, and is certainly different than you might want to do in Panama City.”
Orlando is not alone in its frustration.
Though state laws that override city ordinances are always a source of tension between local and state politicians, instances of so-called preemption are becoming more commonplace, said David Cruz, general counsel for the Florida League of Cities.
“Unfortunately, it seems like we’ve had a lot of special interests and big business interests come to Tallahassee and ask for preemptions at the expense of local control,” Cruz said.
The Florida League of Cities will host its annual conference in Orlando on Aug. 17-19. The lobbying group sets its priorities for the coming year at the meeting, and defending home rule is being considered as a potential “super priority,” Cruz said.
The home rule debate recently prompted the mayors of Windermere and Ocoee to withdraw endorsements for state House candidate Bobby Olszewski after he backed statewide term limits for all elected officials. The mayors felt that should be left for cities to decide.
Defenders of preemption often argue that allowing Florida’s various cities and counties to regulate the same industry differently is bad for business, creating a hard-to-navigate web of regulations.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, in a South Tampa Q&A last month, also argued the Legislature, because of its larger membership, is less susceptible to special-interest influence than a City Council.
“If you are a special interest or you are somebody that wants to curry favor, it is generally much more difficult … to get something through in the state government that would affect the state than it is the local government,” he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
But often, those interests approach the cities first, then go to the state if they’re rebuffed, Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz said.
“I’m not talking about every person in Tallahassee, but we have a lot of representatives in Tallahassee that have never worked at this level, the local level,” he said.
City officials say they’re also wary of preemption bills that failed in the 2017 legislative session but could return in the future.
One failed measure, proposed by state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, would have prohibited local governments from imposing any new regulations on businesses, professions or occupations unless the restrictions were specifically authorized by state law.
State Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, sponsored the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act, which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in June. She said cities like Orlando never had the authority to regulate drone use. The skies are the federal government’s purview, she said.
“There is a fallacy that, somehow, we took something away from local government,” she said. “They didn’t have any ability to regulate this stuff, anyway.”
Orlando argued its ordinance empowered police, who can’t enforce federal laws, to cite unsafe drone-fliers, though state law still allows local police to enforce laws barring reckless flying, weaponized drones and voyeurism, which were among city leaders’ concerns.
Another state preemption has proved more disruptive: During a June special session, state lawmakers enacted rules governing medical marijuana dispensaries, which allowed cities to ban them entirely but not to regulate them more strictly than pharmacies.
Winter Garden has since approved a ban, while Apopka, Maitland, Winter Park and Seminole County are considering similar measures.
Orlando had already approved restrictions on the location and number of dispensaries in the city days prior to the Legislature’s vote. The City Council was set to vote on a ban in July but delayed it in the hopes of finding a way to keep Orlando rules in place.
“We haven’t made that call yet, but we’re close to believing that we are, in essence, grandfathered with what we had,” Dyer said.
However, Orlando did raise the white flag on its regulations for ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft. The city’s rules to govern those services took effect in 2015, mandating a $250 annual permit fee, but ride-share drivers largely ignored the permit requirement.
Young said ride-share was the “perfect example of a situation where preemption is critical and warranted.” Prior to the Legislature’s action, she said, we “saw a patchwork of different laws all over the state.”
The City Council quietly repealed its ordinance in June.
“I’m happy to be out of the regulation of Uber and Lyft,” Dyer said. “They weren’t complying anyway, so hopefully they’ll comply with what the state did.”
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