TREASURE ISLAND — In the middle of the 2019 legislative session, there have been many bills filed that could impact the city and give the powers of local government to the state, City Attorney Jennifer R. Cowan advised city commissioners at their April 2 meeting.

“There is this focus in Tallahassee with limiting home rule authority. At this point there is still time to have your voice heard,” she told commissioners.

If local power is turned over to the state and someone has a problem or issue with a certain law, she explained, local government may not be able to deal with it at all; it would be something that would have to be sent to a legislator in Tallahassee.

“Many of the proposed bills are further limiting a local government’s home rule authority — this means that Tallahassee, not Treasure Island, will have the power to address your concerns,” she explained.

Short-term rentals

One bill, HB 987/SB 824, would prevent local cities, counties or homeowners associations from regulating short-term rentals, giving that power to the state.

Currently cities are not able to regulate short-term rentals, except if they had the regulation in place as of June 1, 2011. This proposed law would remove that exception.

It would make all current regulations subject to challenge; in addition, the legal burden to show that the regulation was reasonable would be heightened to higher proof of “clear and convincing evidence.”

“Not only does this heighten the burden but it shifts the burden to the government,” Cowan warned. “Instead of the local government’s ordinance being presumed valid and the challenger having to prove it invalid by a preponderance of the evidence, if this law passes, the government will have the burden of proving its law valid and at a higher burden convincing the judge by clear and convincing evidence.”

“The bottom line,” the city attorney advised, “if this passes expect challenges to the cities’ existing short-term rental ordinances and even less regulation of short term rentals.”

Local business licensing

A bill that is a speaker of the House priority, HB 3, would preempt and prohibit local governments from issuing local business licenses; it would make the state responsible for license regulation.

One effect of this law would be to eliminate a current funding source and force local governments to find another way to recoup that loss in revenue, Cowan noted. A local business license is also a way that lets the city know what businesses are operating in their jurisdiction.

For example, Treasure Island receives $60,000 to $70,000 a year by collecting local business license taxes.

“This is the speaker’s priority, which means, without a really strong citizen turnout in opposition, it’s likely to move forward into law,” the city attorney noted.

Construction contract protection

Another bill, HB 101, would put cities on a different playing field than private builders. This bill revises the amount of “retainage” a local government can withhold during a construction project.

Currently, when local government requests bids on construction projects, just like the industry standard, it can withhold 10 percent of the project cost until a contract is completed.

However, the Legislature is considering a bill that “would allow government agencies to only withhold 5 percent.

“This change will make it easier for a contractor to walk off the job and hold government to an amount that is below the industry standard,” Cowan explained. “It also puts local government on a different playing field than the private sector in regard to construction contracts.”

Utility easement regulation

The city attorney advised state officials are revisiting legislation passed to regulate communication facilities in public rights of way to make it even more restrictive on municipalities. House Bill 693 would allow communication companies to place equipment or utility poles in city right of ways without local permission or fees.

“Last year, the Legislature passed a law that allowed communication facilities to use city right of ways without much, if any, fee and limited permitting. It pretty much allowed for very limited permitting from the city’s standpoint and very limited, if any, fees associated with that permitting,” she reminded commissioners.

“These are city rights of ways. In past times in order to use the city’s right of way a company would have to have a franchise agreement or pay certain fees. The bill would make it open for all communication service providers,” she explained.

This year, the Legislature is proposing even more limitation on the local government to protect its right of way, allowing communication companies to come in and place their equipment in the public’s right of way without the city being able to regulate its location or charge any fee, Cowan advised.

“If someone didn’t like that a provider erected their equipment in the right of way in front of their house, there is nothing the city could do about it. You would need to call Tallahassee. It’s a shift of control from local government to the state,” she added.

“There are many other bills, but these are the top four. Reach out to legislators and let them know if you are for or against these pieces of legislation,” she said.

City Manager Garry Brumback told commissioners “Jennifer and I talked about it and we’re in agreement that these are the most likely to pass and most damaging.”

Commissioners advised staff to spread the word and let people know about these bills over the city’s website and Facebook page to encourage calls and letters to state legislators.

Commissioner Heidi Horvak encouraged people to get the word out to their civic associations, so they too can weigh in with comment.

“The more they know ahead of time what reception they (legislators in Tallahassee) will get from the public the better,” she said.