DeSantis vetoes Florida Senate bill, sides with opponents rather than allies

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a measure that critics say could have led to dozens of expensive lawsuits versus city ​​and county governments when local regulations hurt a company’s bottom line.

The legislation (SB 620) vetoed on Friday marked a rare moment when the Republican governor sided with local governments and environmental groups who had opposed the measure against some of his staunchest allies, including Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the State Retail Federation.

DeSantis, however, found a way to needle both sides.

In his veto letter killing the provision that was supposed to go into effect on July 1, DeSantis reiterated his hostility to Restrictions related to COVID-19 imposed by cities and counties during what was considered the peak of the pandemic.

“Local governments are overstepping their authority and unreasonably burdening businesses with policies that range from those that are simply misguided to those that are politically motivated,” DeSantis wrote. “Indeed, this was exemplified by the bizarre and draconian measures taken by some local governments during COVID 19, forcing the state to rescind these edicts…”

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But DeSantis ultimately agreed with opponents, concluding that the bill’s “broad and ambiguous language will lead to both unintended and unintended consequences and costly litigation.”

A Simpson priority

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson but was a priority for Simpson, now a DeSantis-endorsed Republican nominee for Cabinet Commissioner of Agriculture. It allowed any business that had been operating in Florida for at least three years to seek damages if a county or city enacted or amended a provision that reduced the company’s profits by at least 15 percent.

The company should notify the local government within 180 days of issuing an order that it has been wronged, submit documents to support the claim, and request an offer of settlement. Businesses could have legal fees paid by the city or county if they prevail.

During legislative debate, Bob McKee of the Association of Florida Counties called the measure a “tax bill.”

“Local governments will have to tax their landlords and businesses to pay for these business damages and attorney fees,” he warned.

Critics: Bill would discourage action

If such a law were already in place, organizations fighting the legislation said the increased risk of facing lawsuits would have discouraged cities from issuing ordinances that shut down “pill mill” pain clinics. that fueled the state’s opioid crisis, with internet cafes also doubling as illegal gambling sites, limits on bar hours, and even septic tank-to-sewer conversions underway in many communities.

“This is a clear victory for local leaders and their constituents,” said 1000 Friends of Florida President Paul Owens, whose organization has made the fight against SB 620 a top priority.

Florida TaxWatch, the business-backed research group, even estimated the potential cost of the bill to local government at $905 million, which will almost certainly be borne by taxpayers.

“In an already exceptionally litigious state like Florida, this would have resulted in an influx of financially motivated and malicious lawsuits,” said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of TaxWatch.

He added, “The only response from local government would have been to either raise taxes or cut services, and either way this bill would have hurt hard-working taxpayers across the state.”

John Kennedy is a reporter for the Florida Capital Bureau of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

Norman D. Briggs