Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved a taxation package that includes a number of different provisions ranging from sales tax holidays for school supplies to reductions on the business rent tax. One additional provision that it includes relates to pre-empting local governments’ ability to completely “prohibit the sale of or offering for sale of tangible personal property” that is subject to sales tax.
Every year, the legislature wrestles with the question of whether or not to pre-empt local government officials that take their power to the extreme, ham-handedly singling out specific industries through targeted regulations or outright bans. In years past, some cities attempted to ban vacation rental homes, or passed severe regulations that imposed a different set of rules for vacation rentals that didn’t apply to other homes. In 2011, the legislature rightly took away local government’s ability to single out the vacation rental industry in that way.
This year, lawmakers are trying to prevent overzealous local governments from enacting outright bans on otherwise legal products in Florida. By taking away the local ability to single out perfectly legal products in specific jurisdictions, state lawmakers create a fair, statewide framework that protects consumers and businesses alike. By blocking local governments from banning legitimate products without first considering that consumers have a right to demand and desire products that are otherwise perfectly legal, state lawmakers protect the free market, which is infinitely more important than “protecting” consumers from soaps or cleansers that use micro beads, stores that use plastic bags or sell pets or even helium balloons. Those are all things that some local governments have tried to unilaterally outlaw.
These local ordinances are short-sighted because consumers can always just turn to online sources that sell these same products outside of the local government’s jurisdiction. Consumers can also circumvent the law by traveling to a neighboring city or county to buy a product banned in their home jurisdiction.
The Florida House’s proposed language goes exactly as far as it needs to go to protect the free market. It only addresses local ordinances that explicitly ban a product — it doesn’t touch specific regulations that cities and counties may enact in order to regulate certain products.
“When necessary, the Legislature can and will protect free markets and liberty to enable the prosperity of all Floridians regardless of where they reside.” said Sal Nuzzo, Vice-President of Policy for the James Madison Institute. “The Florida House tax plan serves as a reminder to localities that while regulating markets within their boundaries is certainly viable, outright bans on legal commerce are not.”
Lawmakers rightfully recognize that Monticello, Florida is fundamentally different than Miami. But the fact is that neither of them should be in the business of banning products that are legal everywhere else. Allowing them to do so creates a messy legal patchwork that is bad for consumers and businesses alike, and it encroaches on the authority of the state and federal government, whose job it is to protect consumers.
If a city or county wants to address what they think are major issues in their community, they should establish reasonable regulations that narrowly achieve the outcome their constituents want, as opposed to a broad-brush approach that bans innocuous businesses like pet stores.
Rather than banning outright the sale of dogs or cats because a city is trying to fight so-called “puppy mills,” cities should instead establish standards that ensure only responsible pet stores are engaging in the business of connecting pets with loving homes.
Similarly, the ban on the sale of helium balloons is absurdly broad and overreaching. To address the problem of these balloons making their way into our state’s waters where they are eaten by wildlife, consider policies like they have in Dania Beach, where they prohibit balloons on the pier or near the water.
“We’ve had retailers put out of business by ordinances,” said Melissa Ramba, Vice-President of the Florida Retail Federation. “A retailer should be able to sell any legal product in Florida. They should be open for business. They support your local baseball teams, but the ordinances that local governments pass only support online sales. They do not support your local business.”
Florida law has thousands of laws that regulate the sale of products, each passed with the goal of keeping consumers safe. Florida doesn’t need local governments crushing local businesses with draconian bans while allowing online retailers to thrive.