My name is Benjamin Bolan, and I reside in the City and County of Okeechobee. I am speaking out in support of local government and the right of Home Rule. I and many members of our local communities, including many of our local elected officials, share concerns about several pre-emption bills that have been proposed in the current session of the state legislature. If passed, these laws will deny local communities, counties, and municipalities the right of home rule and determination of how to develop and grow.
Over the last two decades, at the behest of external interests, the home rule power of county and city governments in Florida has been chipped away through legislation passed by the Florida Legislature. This current legislative session is exceptional in the number of pre-emption bills that if passed will run rough-shod over our local communities’ rights and strip the power of home rule and determination of community growth and development from our BOCCs and City Councils and give it to the State.
Amongst the several pre-emption bills in progress are three I believe are of greatest concern:
1. HB439/SB1604: Land Use and Development Regulations
This bill if it becomes law will strip our local government’s ability to deny a land-use change due to infrastructural reasons regardless of the resulting impacts from:
• not enough roads to support the development,
• not enough schools,
• insufficient or crumbling utilities to support the development.
Our county and city commissions will be forced to allow the “land use plan change” and the development to proceed regardless of if there will be negative impacts.
2. HB671/SB682: Residential Building Permits
• shortens the 30-day permitting process to 9 days,
• building permits will automatically be approved after 9 days,
• reduces what counties and cities can charge for permits.
This bill takes away our ability to govern our local permitting process, putting our permitting department in a position where they will have to rush the process to avoid an automatic approval. Rushed permits will inevitably lead to errors that will have negative consequences.
2. HB1515/SB170: Local Ordinances
Allows businesses to sue city governments for “arbitrary or unreasonable” ordinances that could potentially harm their profit margins.
This is a major preemption bill that:
• empowers business owners to sue cities for passing local ordinances that may require the business owners to expend resources when complying with the ordinance,
• some examples: noise ordinances, parking regulations, trash collection,
• during the time an ordinance is being contested our local government will have to suspend enforcement of the ordinance in question.
Currently, 3 out of 4 of the major highways in and out of the County of Okeechobee are 2 lanes. These highways need to be upgraded and 4-laned prior to any major developments that will use them proceeds. Otherwise, the resulting congestion will lead to a reduction in our quality of life, and more troubling, the likelihood of increased highway deaths.
Locally, we are in favor of development and growth that adds to the quality of life in our community. However, we stand in opposition to an authoritative state government that would deny us a say in how our communities grow. Why is the super majority in Tallahassee that claims to be in favor of “small government” acting more like “big brother” and proposing to deny us the right to choose our own path forward, make our own decisions. Is this the “Free” State of Florida or are those only words in contradiction to actions otherwise?
Our state representatives and senators should vote no on these bills in their present form or any form that decreases local government’s ability to determine how growth will affect the quality of life in our local communities.
If these pre-emption bills become law, then not only will the residents of Okeechobee be negatively affected, but all communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee and the rest of the State for that matter.
I encourage anyone reading this to gather the facts and then make your voice heard to your state representative and state senator. I believe regardless of one’s political affiliation, if these pre-emption bills become law, then the Free State of Florida will unfortunately be less free.