Opponents of large cruise ships in Key West protest the arrival of a ship that exceeds the voter-approved ship restrictions on Dec. 9 in Key West. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

A bill making its way through the Florida Legislature’s committee process seems written to target Key West’s voter-approved cruise ship reductions — and the ordinances the city is currently drafting to enact them. But the bill has stirred up opposition in cities throughout Florida.

State Sen. Travis Hutson, who represents parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties in the northeast corner of the state, has proposed Senate Bill 280, entitled “Local Ordinances,” that makes it more difficult for a city or county to pass a local ordinance that could negatively affect businesses there.

The city of Key West is in the process of doing just that, turning three voter-approved cruise ship referendums into ordinances. 

Last year in Tallahassee, lawmakers nullified such voter initiatives and prohibited restrictions on maritime commerce. So city officials in Key West decided to turn those initiatives into ordinances, which were not nullified by the state, but could now face significant scrutiny and drawn-out litigation. Senate Bill 280 represents another potential snag to the city’s pending cruise ship reductions. 

Florida Sen. Travis Hutson, a Republican from the St. Augustine area, has proposed bills that further limit local governments’ authority to handle local issues. CONTRIBUTED

Under the bill, before a city or county may enact a new ordinance, it will have to present a “business impact statement” that includes: “the public purpose to be served by the ordinance as well as the estimated economic effect of the proposed ordinance on businesses both within and outside the municipality, including both adverse and beneficial effects and both direct and indirect effects; a good faith estimate of the number of businesses likely to be affected by the ordinance; an analysis of the extent to which the proposed ordinance is likely to deter or encourage the formation of new businesses within the municipality’s jurisdiction; and an analysis of the extent to which the proposed ordinance will impede the ability of businesses within the municipality to compete with other businesses in other areas of this state or other domestic markets.”

The bill allows cities to outsource this task and it makes exceptions for some local laws that deal with fire and building codes and growth management. If a new local ordinance is challenged in court, Senate Bill 280, if passed, would prohibit a city from enforcing the ordinance until the legal challenge is decided by the courts. But if a city wins in court, it may lift the stay of enforcement regardless of pending appeals.

While presumed by many to target Key West’s pending cruise ship ordinances, SB 280 faces harsh opposition from some mainland cities and counties.

“Letting local officials decide local issues is at the heart of municipal government. Republicans in Tallahassee, though, consider the concept more threatening even than critical race,” writes  Randy Schultz in his South Florida Sun Sentinel piece, “Tallahassee declaring all-out war on cities.” “Hutson defended his bills as ‘guardrails’ to keep cities from ‘going rogue.’ But St. Augustine City Commission members oppose the actions of their hometown senator and wonder why he didn’t consult them. Hutson responded that it wasn’t his responsibility to ask. … The legislation could discourage cities and counties even from proposing regulation. …

In a straw poll last November, Miami Beach voters said they want bars to close at 2 a.m., not 5 a.m. Under these bills, the city commission couldn’t do that. … Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, correctly described the bills as the ‘actualization of a nightmare’ for local government.”

County and city leaders throughout the state, including some Key West city commissioners, are feeling hamstrung by what they say is a Tallahassee power grab by legislators influenced by lobbyists and beholden to special interests such as cruise lines and vacation rental companies.

As of Jan. 18, SB 280 about local ordinances had passed the Senate’s Community Affairs Committee and was slated to be heard by the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday, Jan. 20.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.