American Heart Association among Florida Groups Asking Legislators to
Oppose State Blocking Local Actions that Promote Community Wellbeing
A diverse group of Florida organizations stood together at the Florida Capitol Wednesday to urge legislators to oppose policies that would remove local governments’ ability to pass laws stronger than the state’s own laws. The American Heart Association – standing alongside the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association, Budd Bell Clearinghouse on Human Services, Equality Florida, Florida Association of Counties, Florida Council of Churches, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Organize Florida and the Surfrider Foundation – spoke out against the state overreach found in more than 35 bills, including House Bill 1299, a wide-ranging bill supported by tobacco companies and other corporate interests, which blocks local governments from doing more to protect the wellbeing of their communities.
“Our communities, our health and our voices are at risk,” said Mark Landreth, Florida government relations director for the American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular disease. “When states block communities from passing their own laws, there are consequences to the health and wellbeing of our families, friends, and neighbors. Good ideas often start locally, and the Legislature should allow the votes we cast at the ballot box to mean something for local governments.”
“Preemption” is when a higher form of government, such as a state legislature, limits a lower form of government, such as a county or city council, from acting on an issue. It is becoming an increasingly common state legislative tactic and extending to a greater number of issue areas. In contrast, a 2019 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling states that more than two out of three Florida voters agree their city and county officials should generally be able to pass local laws to protect public health, safety, the environment, and quality jobs when their community believes that statewide laws are not enough. During the 2019 Legislative Session, according to the Florida League of Cities, more than 35 preemption bills are being considered that block local communities from responding to the needs of their citizens.
In Florida, counties and cities currently have the option to build on state progress. For example, Alachua County has taken local initiative, already passing a law that increases the minimum legal sale age of tobacco products to 21, and many other Florida counties – such as Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Pinellas, St. John, Nassau and Duval – have expressed interest in doing so.
If the state overreach in House Bill 1299 and other bills passes, these jurisdictions will be unable to pass their own local laws, taking away the rights of local elected officials to address the unique needs of their communities. Wednesday’s speakers said they are committed to protecting the ability of local elected officials to pass laws that support issues like healthy families, a clean environment and good jobs.
Advocates and their legislative champions explained Florida’s state laws often provide a foundation which local governments can build upon, rather than a ceiling they cannot break.
“State preemption has the potential to undo a lot of the good work communities are already doing to protect citizens,” added Landreth. “From a state level, we need to set standards to protect Floridians, but local communities should have the right to do more to take care of their communities. What works for Key West is not always what works for Tallahassee. That is why local government exists – to create laws that most accurately reflect the unique needs of the people who live there.”
Statements from Organizations against Bills Blocking Communities from Passing Local Laws:
Florida Association of Counties President-Elect and Leon County Commissioner, Nick Maddox
“The fact that a group of organizations from a wide range of industries can come together all in support of localism speaks to the necessity for home rule. Home rule is more than governmental jurisdiction, it’s the ability for local officials to support the community’s needs whether that be by protecting public health, the environment, or public safety.”
Florida Council of Churches, Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer
“Good government can be found at the local level when it listens to the concerns of children and families and then shapes policy that is effective to directly strengthen their lives. It’s possible for good government in this way to scale itself upward to county, state, national levels. But we must understand that the best government cannot simply be exercised remotely at a far distance. Good government really gets shaped at the level that’s closest in direct contact with those who are most vulnerable in our societies and then, when decent policy is crafted at that level where we live in our homes with those whom we love, it can be modeled and represented above at other scalable levels. There’s no doubt that in the history of this country, we’ve needed enforcement of universal rights from various higher levels of government because there had been a breakdown at the local level in good government for all people. Those should be the rare occasions when enforcement of civil rights was required because a local government had failed in its duty to all its citizens.”
Florida League of Cities President and Bartow Mayor Leo E. Longworth
“Home Rule is not a gift from Florida’s Legislature; it is an indispensable element of Florida’s constitution. It reflects the simple reality that Florida’s hundreds of communities are different, and therefore, are generally best served by local leaders, local voters and local solutions. The growing size and increasing diversity of our state make it even more relevant today. We need the custom-fit solutions of local self-government, not the one-size-fits-all distortions caused by ever-greater centralization.”
About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a leading force for a world of longer, healthier lives. With nearly a century of lifesaving work, the Dallas-based association is dedicated to ensuring equitable health for all. We are a trustworthy source empowering people to improve their heart health, brain health and well-being. We collaborate with numerous organizations and millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, advocate for stronger public health policies and share lifesaving resources and information. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.