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Beach mayors gathered last week to discuss opposition to bills giving the state, rather than local communities, the authority to regulate short-term rentals. From left are Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy of Indian Rocks Beach; Alan Johnson, St. Pete Beach; John Hendricks, Madeira Beach; Bill Queen, North Redington Beach; Patrick Soranno, Indian Shores; and Larry Lunn, Treasure Island. Not pictured are Nick Simons of Redington Beach, who is not seeking reelection, and MaryBeth Henderson of Redington Shores.

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH — Mayors from seven beach towns gathered for an informal strategy meeting to discuss bills currently under consideration in both the Florida House and Senate, which, if passed, would give the state authority over municipalities when it comes to vacation rentals.

House Bill 219 and Senate Bill 522 were the mayors’ main topic of conversation over lunch at Burrito Social on Feb. 17.

The mayors present were Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy of Indian Rocks Beach, Alan Johnson of St. Pete Beach, John Hendricks of Madeira Beach, Bill Queen of North Redington Beach, Patrick Soranno of Indian Shores, Lawrence Lunn of Treasure Island, and MaryBeth Henderson of Redington Shores. Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons was invited, but declined as this will be his last week in office.

On Feb. 11 the Florida League of Cities sent out an action alert email urging municipalities to oppose these short-term rental bills that would undermine “home rule.” That set the mayors in motion.

According to the Florida League of Cities, the passage of a bill — the House and Senate versions would be consolidated — would “undo local registration, inspection or licensing requirements specific to short-term rentals adopted since 2014; (wipe) out ordinances that were developed and adopted after numerous rounds of public input and feedback from all stakeholders (realtors, property managers, investors, and residents).”

All seven mayors were in unanimous opposition to the bills. “There is no politics when it comes to municipal issues,” said Queen, who organized the gathering. “We (the mayors) don’t all agree on national politics, but when it comes to our beach towns, what is a problem for one of us is likely to be a problem for all of us. We have the same issues and we all want what’s best for our towns.”

The consensus was to get the word out to the residents of the beach towns so that citizens can let their wishes be known to their state senator and representatives.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, is the state senator for District 24, which covers the beaches from St. Pete Beach to Belleair, Largo, Pinellas Park and northern areas of St. Petersburg (email: HYPERLINK "mailto:brandes.jeff@flsenate.gov" brandes.jeff@flsenate.gov). Linda Chaney, a Republican from St. Pete Beach, is the state representative for District 69, which covers the beaches from Tierra Verde north to Redington Shores (email: HYPERLINK "mailto:linda.chaney@myfloridahouse.gov" linda.chaney@myfloridahouse.gov). Nick DiCeglie, a Republican from Indian Rocks Beach, is the state representative for District 66, which covers the beaches from Indian Shores north to Clearwater (email: HYPERLINK "mailto:nick.diceglie@myfloridahouse.gov" nick.diceglie@myfloridahouse.gov).

Kennedy read aloud an email response Indian Rocks Beach received from DiCeglie on Feb. 11. “As you know, HB 219 is moving in the House and the next stop will be Ways and Means, which is a committee I sit on,” wrote DiCeglie. “I have serious concerns with this bill. While I completely understand the intent to create a uniform regulatory environment across each county, the complete preemption to the state for vacation rentals is very problematic for me.”

Kennedy said she followed up with a phone call to DiCeglie, and said he understands that if the bill goes through, it will be very difficult to hold bad actors accountable. In DiCeglie’s earlier email he stated, “I am not confident the DBPR (the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation) has the resources to adequately regulate, respond and have the ability to hold the bad actors accountable.”

“Code enforcement can’t keep up with it now,” said Johnson, who is also the vice president of the Barrier Islands Governmental Committee, or BIG-C. Short-term rental issues like noise and parking are already a concern for the beach towns.

Both Kennedy and Queen were among the 100 recipients of the Florida League of Cities’ 2020 Home Rule Heroes for their work in support of home rule during the 2020 Legislative session. “We all have a good relationship, come together, and try to be a force for good,” said Kennedy.

Added Hendricks, “If anything should be home rule, this (short-term rentals) should be it.”

Lunn pointed out that although the Florida League of Cities supports home rule, not everyone does. “The Chamber (Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce) is on both sides of this issue,” said Lunn.

Henderson explained that her town, Redington Shores, has put ordinances in place regarding short-term rentals, and that the short-term rental companies have been cooperating. “We have a maximum guest allowance of 12 people per house, and Vrbo (Home Away) got on board,” said Henderson, who is also the treasurer/secretary of the BIG-C. The rental company posted the town’s requirement on its website.

“You could have a motel next to your house if these bills pass,” said Queen.

In addition to educating residents about the bills and what is at stake, the group of mayors agreed to work together as the executives of their respective towns. Soranno, who is also the president of BIG-C, agreed to write a letter from the organization to the state representatives, state senator and the governor opposing the bills. “We will sign it at the next BIG-C meeting and I’ll draft a resolution for each town to endorse,” said Soranno.