July 19, 2019
There was a time in living memory when all three branches of Florida government acknowledged their duty to serve everyone who lives here rather than only those with enough influence to have politicians in their pockets.
That consensus was reflected in a new constitution that let the people propose and enact their own amendments. New laws gave the public a voice in managing growth and protecting the environment. A reformed, depoliticized Supreme Court upheld the right of citizens to speak their minds on public issues. Democrats and Republicans cooperated in most of that.
But today, the Republicans who hold absolute power in Tallahassee have a radically different concept of who they serve, and their “conservative” agenda goes far beyond simply keeping taxes low. As if by design, they are swiftly making the people voiceless and powerless against what a journalist of the pre-reform 1960s called the “true constituents” of the Legislature.
Two recent examples are especially alarming.
– Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that environmentalists fear is a “mortal blow” to growth management. Among other bad things, HB 7103 requires citizens to pay the other side’s legal fees if they try and fail to overturn a permit as inconsistent with a community’s comprehensive plan. The new law also tells courts to fast-track the cases.
“Other than the consistency challenge, no means exists to enforce local government comprehensive plans,” said the environmental group 1000 Friends of Florida in a five-page letter urging DeSantis to veto the bill.
Although the loser-pays provision works both ways, it’s usually only the side with the permit that can afford to take the risk.