Here’s a secret in the legislative process: Bills that have single or low two-digit numbers are presumed to be special. These prime bill slots are generally reserved for priorities of the House speaker and Senate president.
It’s why President Joe Negron’s overhaul of the higher education system is Senate Bill 2 and a proposal to change the way new hospitals and nursing homes are approved — part of Speaker Richard Corcoran’s slate of health care reforms — is House Bill 7.
Which brings us to House Bill 17. In a nutshell, this legislation would prevent city and county governments and school districts from making new rules that put restrictions on private businesses and any occupations. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said his goal was to simplify things for Florida businesses that often must deal with rules and regulations that change from one town to another.
The way Fine’s proposal was originally written, the effective date was retroactive to Jan. 1. That means if the bill were to become law, any local regulations approved after the new year would have become moot if there was impact on private businesses unless the action was authorized by the Legislature. That instantly put this bill on the radar of proponents of Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance.
I don’t have to remind you of the long and rocky political fight that preceded the successful passage of the ordinance on Valentine’s Day. The HRO supporters didn’t like the idea that the Legislature could swoop in and instantly undo their work, especially since so much political capital was expended getting the darn thing passed.
The bill didn’t just tick people off in Jacksonville. During its initial House committee vote last week, dozens of elected officials and lobbyists representing municipalities across the state spoke up in opposition.
Small-town officials worried that they would be prevented from passing city ordinances to rein in strip clubs. Others argued that it made no sense for the Legislature to insist on one-size-fits-all rules as if what works for Pensacola would be satisfactory or feasible in Miami.
The House Career &Competition Subcommittee approved HB 17 mostly along party lines. But it also signed off on an amendment that took out the retroactive language, so the HRO is safe for now. The bill still is a longshot. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, filed SB 1158 on Thursday that has similar pre-emption language although more narrowly applied. Local governments likely will have the same concerns about this proposal. House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Thursday that he stands behind the intent of HB 17. He believes the power to regulate businesses should reside at the state level unless the Legislature decides to delegate it to the local level.
“I think our founders got it right when they set up a Constitution,” Corcoran said. “They basically said that the federal government exists with these enumerated powers. What’s not enumerated, all of it belongs to the states. Every bit of it.”
This measure wouldn’t have been introduced with that prime number (pun intended) without Corcoran’s support. But even he acknowledged the huge opposition campaign already gearing up. The speaker said that tweaks may be needed.