By: County Commissioner Dist. 4 Robert Weinroth
Special to the Delray Newspaper
Since the first week of March, our elected state legislative representatives have been “in session.” Our state, unlike many across the United States, does not keep its legislature “open for business” throughout the year. Unlike the U.S. Congress, our state senators and representatives are part-time legislators.
The framers of the Florida Constitution designed a system whereby people can be elected to sit as legislators and then return to their full time occupation. Many within the legislature are doctors, lawyers, farmers, insurance agents, first responders and many other occupations.
To facilitate the idea that our elected representatives should, indeed be representative of our residents the state legislative session only runs for 60-days. And, there is only one item of business that MUST be accomplished – enacting a balanced state budget, which the Governor is willing to sign.
Sounds simple but, as we have seen in recent years, the process of developing and passing a balanced state budget can sometimes be elusive. If both houses of the legislature cannot approve a budget the Governor is willing to sign within the allotted time, special sessions must be called to complete the task.
In most cases, once the session ends (this year the last day of regular session will be May 3), everyone goes home. The elected representatives will continue meeting with constituents during the year and their staff will be there for constituent issues. But, the task of drafting, debating and voting on legislative proposals will be over until 2020.
Special Sessions can be called, where necessary, but these are only done in exceptional situations.
Against this backdrop comes an annual push me pull you debate over boundaries between the state and local legislative bodies (counties and municipalities). Embodied within the Florida Constitution is the principle of “Home Rule.”
Simply put, Home Rule means residents deserve to be heard by their local elected leaders who live in the same community with them and with whom they have easy access (as opposed to the legislature, ensconced in Tallahassee, or in our Nation’s capital).
The Florida Constitution empowers local governments (cities, towns, villages and counties) to address local issues, locally. The Legislature has more important issues to worry about than micromanaging local land use issues, trash disposal, police, fire and even tree-trimming ordinances. However, over the past few years, the legislature has continued to chip away at this right.
Most of what is being regulated locally is not likewise incorporated within those six volumes of laws and one-size fits all solutions would hardly be equitable throughout the state. Indeed, Florida is a diverse state, geographically and culturally. The Panhandle has little in common with Central Florida, which is quite different from South Florida.
Home Rule offers the best model for responding to the unique issues of each municipality. In addition, with the legislature only meeting for a limited time, localities would have a difficult time waiting, perhaps, years to get a matter addressed if it needed to wait for the representatives in Tallahassee to act.
As stated above, residents deserve to be heard by their local elected leaders who live in the same community with them and with whom they have easy access.
If you agree with this premise, you need to communicate your disdain for the continuing attempts by the legislature to make municipalities dependent on the legislature for permission to address local issues.