Bad bill alert: HB 41 would limit citizens’ ability to challenge development rules

Happy 2023 from VoteWater, where we’re confident the new year will bring tidings of comfort and joy — and lousy ideas, bad bills and terrible initiatives courtesy of the Florida Legislature.

In fact, we’ve already identified our first Bad Bill of 2023: House Bill 41, filed by Rep. Alina Garcia, R-115. The proposal looks to be yet another sop to developers, prohibiting local initiatives or referendums on land development regulations.

State law already prohibits such initiatives or referendums on comprehensive plan or map amendments, except those specifically authorized in a local charter provision enacted before June 2011. HB 41 would essentially expand this to any local push to change land development rules, and make it retroactive.

If passed, it might put the kibosh on a situation now brewing in Venice, where a citizens’ group called Venice Unites has been pushing for a referendum to overturn newly adopted development regulations. Those rules, adopted last year, would increase building heights downtown, allow for up to 6-story buildings in some areas of the city, curtail protections for historic neighborhoods and permit large-scale commercial development in residential Planned Unit Developments, or PUDs.

Citizens say elected officials ignored their concerns during the approval process, and their referendum seeks to scuttle the rules and “prevent Venice from becoming another cookie-cutter beach town.”

HB 41 — if passed into law — could make such a challenge impossible.

The bill is now in the newly created Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee; it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

But it’s in keeping with other recent attempts by the Legislature to stifle civic self-determination. In 2021 Key West sought to limit cruise ship traffic; the Legislature jumped in with a new law to overturn the referendums. Last year SB 620 would have allowed businesses to sue cities that passed laws which cut into profits; Gov. Ron DeSantis mercifully vetoed it.

The message, in every case: Citizen concerns take a back seat to special interests’ bottom line.

That has obvious implications for clean water. So we’re keeping an eye on HB 41 — and helping you do the same.

Indeed, we’ll be paying closer attention than ever this legislative session; our friends at Friends of the Everglades will be launching a “Legislative Accountability” project, to monitor bad (and good!) legislation, identify and influence key legislative players and keep fans of clean water up-to-the-moment on everything.

In the fight for clean water, knowledge is power. And the more you know — the smarter you can fight.