Lately, the fight between Floridians promoting home rule and those advocating for statewide preemption has been as hot as the late-summer afternoons. Preemption is not a dirty word, and home rule should not be considered profane either. These concepts appear to be mutually exclusive and opposite, but there is space for both. Without diving headlong in Ecclesiastes or The Byrds’ most hummable tune, I posit to you that there is a time for both of these approaches. Businesses will flourish when there is a good balance between preemption and home rule.
The Case for Preemption
You will often find statewide business advocates appealing to our state legislators to enact a statewide preemption on a particular topic. Is it because we hate local government? No. It’s because we are an increasingly interconnected economy. Local businesses serve as the economic backbone of our communities. When it comes to doing business, the factors and variables impacting local businesses do not heed to the jurisdictional boundaries of 400+ cities and 67 counties. If the impact is felt across jurisdictional boundaries, then the policies we adopt need to cross those boundaries as well.
When the topic of preemption comes up, you will often hear concerns about the “patchwork of regulation.” This refers to several different localities adopting regulations to address the same issue but not in the same way. It’s not just a talking point. When companies operate across jurisdictional lines and those many jurisdictions regulate things like sustainability or human resources differently, I assure you the struggle is real. Consistent and predictable regulation makes a big difference as local businesses try to operate efficiently, effectively and responsibly. And yes, profitably.
Breaking the law and flouting regulations is no business owner’s roadmap to meaningful and sustained success. Our members want to comply and be good corporate citizens. The patchwork can get in the way and excessive regulatory burdens can hinder a business from flourishing, growing, hiring more people, and living its best life. And “best life” doesn’t just mean profit for the owner: It means greater economic prosperity for a community and its citizens. In some circumstances, preemption lays the groundwork for consistent regulation and prosperity for all.
Why Home Rule Matters
But there is absolutely a time for home rule. Nothing so clearly demands and requires local direction as the issue of zoning. Local government should not tell us how to do business, but it certainly has the authority and responsibility to tell us where to do business. Whether designating commercial zones versus residential zones or deciding where manufacturing or agricultural activity should take place, these decisions shape communities. While a local government should not abuse its zoning authority as a front for regulatory overreach, the decisions about where particular activities take place within a community create the structure for communities. Citizens rely on these designations as they make important decisions about their homes and livelihood.
So here’s to preemption and home rule. May we work together to find ways to responsibly and effectively apply both of these necessary concepts.
Samantha Padgett is General Counsel of FRLA.