HB 7103 Signed into Law

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

“The death knell for growth management in Florida”

1000 Friends of Florida is calling for the repeal of the damaging Brandes amendment in HB 7103 and is deeply disappointed that Gov. DeSantis chose to sign the bill into law. This legislation could deal a mortal blow to growth management in Florida. With our state adding nearly 1,000 new residents a day, the timing couldn’t be worse.

There are several bad provisions in HB 7103, but the worst will force Floridians who challenge a development order and lose to pay the legal fees of the winners. These challenges from citizens are the only enforcement mechanism left to ensure that proposed developments are consistent with local comprehensive plans, the blueprints for growth in our communities in Florida. It’s critical that communities abide by their comprehensive plans to protect our environment, economy and quality of life amid our state’s rapid growth. But the risk of getting slapped with the legal fees for both sides will scare most citizens away from exercising their right to go to court to challenge development orders and enforce comprehensive plans.

There is no need for this provision; state law already gives judges the authority to require citizens who file frivolous consistency challenges to pay the other sides’ legal fees. So HB 7103 really targets citizens with legitimate complaints about development orders. It will undermine, instead of support, the governor’s emphasis on environmental protection.

And this provision was added in the final days of this year’s legislative session in a floor amendment that was never introduced or debated by legislators in committee, or subjected to public testimony, or analyzed by staff. There was never a meaningful discussion of its ruinous consequences.

Now that HB 7103 has become law, a future of poor planning and development decisions looms in Florida – unless legislators have the good sense to fix this terrible mistake and resurrect growth management in the 2020 session.”

See 1000 Friends of Florida’s statement on signing of HB 7103 and letter requesting that Gov. DeSantis VETO HB 7103.

Media Coverage

Florida development bill could force Manatee County to approve permits within 30 days (Bradenton Herald, 6/5/19)
Another Opinion: Save Florida’s shreds of growth control (Jacksonville Times-Union, 6/4/19)
MARK LANE: Slow legislative pipeline raises hope for DeSantis vetoes (Daytona Beach News-Journal, 6/4/19)
Environmentalists ask DeSantis to veto bill that could stifle development challenges (Tampa Bay Times, 5/30/19)
Citing threat to Everglades, 44 groups ask Gov. DeSantis to veto bill (Florida Phoenix, 5/29/19)
Editorial: The Florida Legislature sells out (again) to developers (Tampa Bay Times, 5/20/19)
Commentary:  Governor must veto dangerous growth-mismanagement bill (Orlando Sentinel, 5/20/19)
Opinion:  Is this the death of growth management in Florida? (Tallahassee Democrat, 5/15/19)
Editorial:  DeSantis should veto Florida lawmakers’ ‘sneak attack’ on sane development, growth management (Palm Beach Post, 5/12/19)
Amendment in state bill could impact growth management in Florida (WJCB, 5/11/19)
Opinon:  Turning the Toxic Tide: Our 5-part playbook for saving Florida’s waters (USA TODAY Florida Network, 5/9/19)
Editorial: State must stop pollution at its source (Gainesville Sun, 5/8/19)
After decade on life support, Florida just killed growth management (Orlando Sentinel, 5/8/19)
Opinion – Thomas Hawkins: Bill ending comprehensive planning in Florida deserves governor’s veto (TC Palm, 5/8/19)
Last-minute legislative amendment penalizes anyone who challenges Florida development (Florida Phoenix, 5/7/19)
Bill could cripple Florida’s growth management plans (WJCT News, 5/6/19)

Overview

After a tumultuous legislative session in which nearly 200 bills were passed, many dealing with high-profile controversies, it’s a challenge for even seasoned observers to keep track of them all. We want to call your attention to one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation for Florida’s future to emerge from the 2019 session – maybe the worst bill you never heard about –HB 7103. 

House Bill 7103 was passed on 60th day of the session amid a crush of last-minute legislating. One day before, HB 7103 was amended on the Senate floor with a provision that would gut the ability of Floridians to challenge decisions on growth in their communities. In a flagrant abuse of the legislative process, this far-reaching amendment was never subjected to scrutiny in committee hearings, and was approved on a voice vote at the 11th hour without any discussion.

The amendment actually was first proposed in committee, but withdrawn before it could be publicly vetted and properly debated. It would tilt the procedural rules against any neighboring landowners or other citizens who challenge a local government’s development decision in court, and require them to pay that government’s attorney fees if they lose. The risk of getting hit with a six-figure bill for attorney fees would deter all but the wealthiest citizens from exercising this legal right.

Why is this such a big deal?

Florida’s Community Planning Act requires every local government to adopt and maintain a comprehensive plan – a blueprint for growth – that meets minimum standards. Local comprehensive plans provide for some of the most important and locally-appropriate provisions for flood protection, fiscally responsible infrastructure, neighborhood stability, and property investment protection. Once a comprehensive plan is in place, a local government’s development decisions must be consistent with the plan.

Despite these statutory requirements, the state of Florida generally does not review comprehensive plan amendments to ensure they comply with state law. And the state never reviews development orders to ensure they follow the local government’s comp plan.

Until the passage of HB 7103, the only tools that require local governments to abide by the law are review in administrative hearings and judicial enforcement, initiated through citizens’ legal challenges. But with the passage of HB 7103,essentially no enforcement mechanism are left for local planning decisions.

1000 Friends believes that local government reliability and compliance with the law are critical to effective planning. Property owners, developers, and residents need to know that rules, not political whims or pressure, will dictate land use decisions.

Supporters of the amendment to HB 7103 said it would deter frivolous lawsuits. But Florida law already gives judges the discretion to order challengers to pay legal fees when they file nuisance challenges to development decisions. This thoughtful, case-by-case approach from judges makes sense. The amendment’s sweeping change in law does not.

Because of this amendment, HB 7103 makes local governments unaccountable for their land use decisions. That outcome would be disastrous for landowners, developers and any other citizens who care about planning in their communities. It would mark the death knell for growth management in Florida, even as the state’s population is projected to grow by more than 12 million people over the next half century. The timing couldn’t be much worse.

There are at least a couple other damaging provisions in HB 7103.

HB 7103 was filed partway into the session as the companion to a previously filed Senate bill, SB 1730. Both bills were originally intended to limit the power of local governments to require developers to include affordable housing in their projects – a bad idea, given Florida’s acute and worsening shortage of homes for low- and moderate-income families.

During consideration in committee, HB 7103 and SB 1730 both were amended to prohibit any new city founded in Florida from adopting the development plans their citizens want, if those plans at all differ from earlier development orders. This change turns planning in Florida on its head in these new cities. Developers’ ideas for using land would, by law, dictate local government plans, not the other way around.