THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: State responds in growth management suit

Dec 17, 2009

THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA published this article on December 17, 2009.


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 16, 2009….State officials have filed their defense of a new growth management law that 18 cities and two counties are seeking to have declared unconstitutional.

Senate Bill 360, the business-backed measure that relaxed transportation standards in 245 communities across Florida, was approved appropriately and does not impose onerous costs on local governments, Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office concludes in a response filed in Leon County Circuit Court.

But the attorney the plaintiffs, including Lee and Broward counties and several cities, say the response doesn’t derail the case which appears headed for trial next year.

“I have yet to hear either in person or court how they can conclude that this doesn’t violate the single-subject rule or isn’t an unconstitutional unfunded mandate,” said Jamie Cole, the Weston lawyer who filed the suit in July on behalf of the governments.

The local governments fighting the measure say it violates the Florida Constitution by putting unrelated matters into one bill, forcing lawmakers to vote for one item to get another.
Courts are often wary about this provision, since it occurs frequently in legislation drawing in many amendments designed to forge a consensus. Senate Bill 360 is centered on growth management – but also includes a provision prohibiting governments from requiring businesses to install security cameras.

Similarly, those seeking to overturn the measure say that while revising local planning amendments to meet the relaxed zoning standards will cost communities money, no state funding for local government was set-aside. The two-thirds vote needed in each house to approve SB 360 also wasn’t achieved, since only 78 members in the 120-person House approved the legislation, two votes short.

The Senate sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he is outraged that a handful of cities and counties have joined forces to fight the legislation – spending taxpayer money on litigation while he has offered to come back next session and “fix the legislation.”

“If they let us fix it before they get a trial date, why are governments in Florida wasting money suing each other?” Bennett said.

But the Florida Association of Counties and Florida League of Cities, whose members are divided over the suit and impact of SB 360, told the News Service of Florida on Wednesday that they are not looking to revisit the legislation next year.

The Department of Community Affairs, the state’s lead planning agency, has been enforcing the new legislation in a manner that still gives local governments authority to apply the looser transportation standards only in areas where officials consider it appropriate.

Advocates of the legislation, which environmental groups and many governments urged Gov. Charlie Crist to veto, had viewed it as lifting road-building requirements throughout the affected communities in a bid to jump-start the state’s sagging development industry.

While the legislation began as a means to spur growth in dense urban areas and decaying downtowns, it eventually mushroomed to where the governments faced with dialing-back their transportation requirements now represent almost half of Florida’s 18 million people.