Another week, another round of anti-business, pro-government bilge from the Miami Herald. I’m not intentionally trying to pick on the Herald’s Capital Bureau Chief, Mary Ellen Klas, all the time either. This week’s example is just too blatant to ignore.
This time around, it’s Senate Bill 620, which, under certain circumstances, would allow businesses to sue local governments to recover damages when a local ordinance reduces the business’s revenue by 15% or more. The bill isn’t perfect, to be sure. The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Senator Travis Hutson, would likely be the first to admit he wishes the bill weren’t necessary. But he’s not alone among Florida lawmakers who see too many local government officials get carried away with the power they wield, often passing ordinances in order to address a localized problem without considering the ordinance’s impact on the lives and livelihoods of business owners.
If all we knew about the bill was the description published by the Herald’s Klas, we’d believe that Republicans want to bankrupt local governments in order to pad the pockets of the owners of liquor stores, strip clubs, pill mills and seedy internet gambling cafes. Just read the opening paragraph of her most recent story on the matter, and try to find some reasonable defense for why this paragraph isn’t horribly biased against the bill:
Despite warnings from a parade of city and county officials from across the state that a Senate preemption bill could put taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars in damages when nuisance businesses face regulation, a Florida Senate committee Thursday approved the measure on a mostly party-line vote.
Despite what the Herald wants its readers to believe, the bill is designed to protect all Florida businesses. After reading every single line of the bill, I can find exactly zero mentions of the word “nuisance.” It appears that Klas borrowed the term straight from the prepared talking points of the bill’s opponents after they painted a worst-case scenario for lawmakers and media alike.
And that makes sense, since Klas has earned a reputation as a sympathetic ally to those who favor government solutions over the private sector, eager to put a finger on the scale of her reporting. Apparently, to both her and the Herald, just about every Florida business that turns a profit looks like a “nuisance business.”
In reality, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature has worked to find the right balance between protecting business owners from overzealous local officials, while at the same time trying to allow local governments the freedom to manage their own affairs and avoid a one-size-fits-all government solution. That balance is reflected in the language of the bill, which includes a number of prerequisites and qualifiers that require business owners to attempt to work through the issue with their local officials and find a balance between the interests of all parties.
Among those provisions are a lengthy “pre-suit procedure” that requires the business to file a notice with local officials detailing the nature of the damages the business has suffered as a result of the new ordinance. This is designed to give local officials six months to work through the issue with the business owner, who must also include detailed information about the nature and extent of the damages suffered by the business. Those details also require certifications from a business damages expert, a certified public accountant, or other information, including the business’s bookkeeping records, to substantiate the financial impact of the business’s claim.
If the Miami Herald and Mary Ellen Klas were held to similar standards with their reporting, the lead paragraph of her latest story wouldn’t have been written by the public relations arm of the bill’s opponents. It would have contained balanced information, perhaps including examples of legitimate businesses that have been hurt by local ordinances for years, and whose only recourse now is to appeal to state lawmakers for relief.