Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Governor Signs Bill Effectively Ending Citizens' Ability to Enforce Local Comprehensive Plans

SIERRA CLUB CRITICAL OF GOVERNOR’S SIGNING OF HOUSE BILL 7103

TALLAHASSEE, FL. (June 28, 2019) – Today Governor DeSantis signed House Bill 7103 despite the call from environmentalists, including over 40 environmental organizations committed to the protection of the Everglades, asking him to veto this terrible bill. Amended in the waning hours of the legislative session and without the opportunity for public input, HB 7103 threatens Florida with a proliferation of sprawl by effectively eliminating the only means of enforcing local comprehensive plans by requiring the court to award costs and fees to the prevailing party.

“This now law is specifically designed to deter persons from seeking review of, or defending against, unreasonable governmental action because of the expense of civil actions and administrative proceedings. HB 7103 makes no such accommodation for the differences between citizens and local governments because its purpose is to intimidate citizen action against development orders inconsistent with local comprehensive plans,” said Sierra Club Florida’s Chapter Director, Frank Jackalone. 

Deborah Foote, Director of Government Affairs for Sierra Club commented, “The only bulwark against violations of an adopted comprehensive plan is citizen action; Florida Statutes provide no other mechanism. The fees and costs provision makes the choice to challenge the approval of a development order equivalent to deliberately choosing to risk bankruptcy. It is clear that few, if any, such challenges will be mounted. The result will be the end of growth management in Florida.”

The law also restricts local governments’ ability to create affordable housing units; it continues to allow governments to require affordable housing but forces them to repay the developer for any financial losses as a result. In other words, if local governments want affordable housing, they’re going to have to pay for it themselves. “In a state facing an affordable housing crisis, the Governor just made it harder for local governments to do something about it,” said Foote.

A chapter of the national Sierra Club, Sierra Club Florida is made up of volunteer leaders and civic activists representing over 230,000 members and supporters from all over the state.
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Today House Bill 7103 was sent to Governor DeSantis for his action. Please continue to make calls to his office urging his VETO on this terrible piece of legislation. 
HB 7103 threatens Florida with a proliferation of sprawl by effectively eliminating the only means of enforcing local comprehensive plans, and is unnecessary in light of statutory sanctions for improper or baseless legal actions.

HB 7103 requires the court to award costs and fees to the prevailing party. This is specifically designed to deter persons from seeking review of, or defending against, unreasonable governmental action because of the expense of civil actions and administrative proceedings. HB 7103 makes no such accommodation for the differences between citizens and local governments because its purpose is to intimidate citizen action against development orders inconsistent with local comprehensive plans.

The only bulwark against violations of an adopted comprehensive plan is citizen action; Florida Statutes provide no other mechanism. The fees and costs provision makes the choice to challenge the approval of a development order equivalent to deliberately choosing to risk bankruptcy. Accordingly, it is clear that few, if any, such challenges will be mounted if this bill becomes law. The result will be the end of growth management in Florida.

There are already numerous provisions in statute that deal with awards of costs and fees, and in many cases these awards are sanctions for wasting the time of the court or for using the courts to harass another party.

Please call Governor DeSantis at (850) 488-7146 and ask him to VETO HB 7103.  
If you are unable to call, please email   GovernorRon.DeSantis@eog.myflorida.com.