The Florida House passed Senate Bill 620 by a margin of 69-45 on Wednesday, sending the controversial measure that would allow businesses to file lawsuits against local governments to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The bill, which has drawn criticism from both organizations and lawmakers, would allow businesses to sue cities and counties if passed local regulation results in at least a demonstrable 15 percent loss of profits.
“If we let this bill pass, how many frivolous lawsuits will there be?” Said Rep. Dianne Hart. “There is a belief that this bill will have unintended consequences. This bill will likely have a chilling effect on local government’s ability to enact meaningful, popular legislation when we really need to be able to put forth regulation in our municipalities. For that reason, I vote no.”
Rep. Angela Nixon proposed an amendment that would also open the state to lawsuits if the Legislature passed measures that damage businesses, though the amendment filing was struck down on Tuesday.
Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, in support of the bill through an anecdote of a gym owner in South Miami that was given upwards of 80 noise complaint citations after city commissioners suddenly changes the regulations on noise control.
“A group of neighbors, maybe 4 or 5 of them, went to their city commissioner and pushed for an ordinance changing the noise regulation from 100 feet [from the location of the business] to 0 feet. The owner told me about multiple occasions where he would have city inspectors hiding in bushes with noise detection machines, and they’d jump out and yell ‘gotcha!” They ended up citing him with over 80 citations and $10,000 in fines for this guy and his business.”
The city of South Miami ultimately rolled back the fines, though the measure took an extended period of time and affected the profitability of the gym.
Supporters have dubbed the proposal the “Local Business Protection Act,” with Senate President Wilton Simpson, stating that the bill could help end preemption bills.
Florida TaxWatch spoke out against the SB 620, speaking in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee in January, arguing that the bill would hurt local economies.
“Florida is a state built for business success, with low taxes and leaders that focus on balancing economic growth with quality of life and community vibrancy,” said Florida TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro. “It does suffer, though, from a very litigious climate – earning us the distinction of “judicial hellhole”– and the proposal being considered here has real risks for making this worse and negatively impacting taxpayers.”
DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of this week.