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Florida bills would strip local governments from creating certain laws

Bills would limit what cities and counties can do with issues such as sunscreens and short term rentals

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Several bills in the Florida legislature would block local governments from creating their own laws for certain issues. The bills would give that power to the state. 

A group of city leaders from across the state are urging state leaders to vote against these bills.

St. Augustine Beach City Commissioner Dylan Rumrell told First Coast News that while some issues need state-level control, other topics are inherently local and should be governed at the local level. 

One example, he said, is the plastic bag ban. 

"I think it was a progressive thing for St. Augustine Beach to do," he said.  

In 2019, St. Augustine Beach City Commissioners passed a local law that banned businesses from using plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene foam (commonly referred to as Styrofoam). 

Rumrell remembers the demand was clear. 

"Our community wants that," he said. "It was a unanimous vote."

The commission passed that ordinance, even though there was a state law on the books which says cities cannot ban plastic bags. 

Other Florida cities have created their own progressive local laws. 

Key West passed a law that outlaws certain kinds of sunscreens with chemicals detrimental to coral reefs. 

St. Augustine city leaders want to create ways to regulate short-term rentals in the city's tight-knit neighborhoods.

However, this year, legislators are considering several bills that would basically tell Florida cities they can't make local laws which do things such as: ban the sale certain sunscreens, continue to ban businesses from using plastic bags, set local minimum wages and worker protection rules.  

Just last week, St. Augustine City Manager John Regan spoke before a House committee in Tallahassee, voicing his concern with a proposed bill giving the state final say over vacation rentals. 

"Short-term rentals are best regulated at the local level," he told First Coast News last week. "This is another example of the erosion of home rule." 

Home rule is basically local law. Many city leaders across the state are fighting against the list of state bills that would strip municipalities from governing issues the consider local.

"I'm sure there's money, finance, stuff like that behind some of it," Rumrell said. 

"Every municipality is different and no one size fits all," Regan said. "What we might need or might be desired by our population in terms of regulation might not be the same as Miami, Orlando or Tampa."

It turned out, St. Augustine Beach Commissioners repealed their new law banning plastic bags and polystyrene foam because they're concerned they might get sued like another Coral Gables is getting sued for creating a similar law. 

In the end, it boils down to locals vs. state -- and who has the ultimate say.