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Bill allowing businesses to sue local governments over ordinances heads to DeSantis

With supporters touting the measure as pro-business, the Florida House gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that could open the door to businesses filing lawsuits against cities and counties.

The House voted 69-45 to pass the bill (SB 620), which was approved by the Senate in January and is ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The bill would allow businesses to sue cities and counties if ordinances cause at least 15 percent losses of profits. It would apply to businesses that have been in operation for at least three years and allow them to file lawsuits seeking lost profits for seven years or the number of years the businesses have been in operation, whichever is less.

House sponsor Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, said the bill would cause local governments to “pause” before they enact ordinances that would hurt businesses.

“The tie should absolutely go to the risk taker,” McClure said. “It should go to the private sector.”

But Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Democrat who is a former mayor of Parkland, said the bill would not help small-business owners who work closely with local governments.

“This is just going to give the bad actors another opportunity to threaten local governments to get their ways,” Hunschofsky said.

Supporters titled the proposal the “Local Business Protection Act,” with Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, saying in January that it could help end what are known as preemption bills in the Legislature. Such bills involve the state taking power away from local governments on specific issues.

Under the measure, local governments would be shielded from lawsuits about ordinances related to such things as complying with state and federal laws and complying with the Florida Building Code and the Fire Prevention Code. Among other exemptions, it would prevent lawsuits about ordinances “intended to promote, enable or facilitate economic competition.”

Six House Republicans joined almost all Democrats in voting against the bill. Those Republicans were Thad Altman of Indialantic; Melony Bell of Fort Meade; Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven; Patt Maney of Shalimar; Jim Mooney of Islamorada; and David Smith of Winter Springs. Rep. Anika Omphroy, D-Lauderdale Lakes, voted for the bill.

Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, argued that the bill would create a “chilling effect” on local governments passing regulations that are supported by residents. Also, opponents have said residents would bear the costs of lawsuits.

“I believe that this is the greatest unfunded mandate for all of our constituents,” Hart said.

But supporters said it would help businesses that can face hostility from local governments.

“This is my favorite bill by far,” Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami-Dade County, said. “It’s a great bill.”

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Jim Saunders