Local Government Power Diminishing, Big-Footed by State: Broward Commissioner

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In politics, the words "home rule" have great meaning to local governments. But some elected officials in South Florida say they're losing their ability to make important policy decisions in their own communities.

City and county officials say it’s their responsibility to make decisions on issues like school boards requiring masks, limiting drinking hours or prohibiting a person from carrying a gun into a government building.

But in Tallahassee, the state has stepped in to make its own rules, superseding those local policies.

Broward County Commissioner and former Mayor, Democrat Steve Geller, says Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Tallahassee Republicans want it both ways.

"They say 'oh no, no, no, you have to understand, the federal government is too big, local governments are too small, but just like Goldilocks, the state of Florida is just right, we are the ones that know everything,'" he said in a sarcastic tone.

Wilton Simpson, president of the Republican-led Florida Senate, insists in some cases the state does know better, and looks to reverse or preempt local policies that the state feels are too restrictive.

He points to the lockdown of the cruise industry during the COVID-19 pandemic as an example.

"In some cases they will shut an entire port down from a certain commerce,” said Simpson. "This year it could be cruise ships, next year it could be combustion engines and the next year it could be natural gas, and we said no, no, Florida is open for business."

Legislators passed a bill permitting a business owner to sue a local government if that business loses revenues as a result of restrictive, local policies.

Desantis is expected to sign the bill into law.

Geller says the dwindling of home rule has been trending for at least a decade.

He wishes the state would butt out of his county business.

“It seems to be once you become governor you forget that the local governments matter too, but we do," he said.

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