Legislation would allow businesses to sue local governments for losses

This Tuesday April 23, 2019, file photo shows the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Business owners may soon have a new tool to fight city hall.

Legislation being pushed for the coming legislative session would allow businesses to sue if a city or county ordinance causes their profits to drop. But the legislation has local governments calling foul.

Senate Bill 620 would allow businesses to sue local governments if the government’s actions — like changing the hours a restaurant or bar can be open — causes a 15% drop in the business’s income or profit.

Cities and counties hate the idea.

“This bill is very broad,” said Ralph Thomas, president of the Florida Association of Counties. “My fear is the unintended consequences and it would be easy for anyone to just say, ‘Hey, I think you’ve impacted my business and the cost of my business, and I want a check, I want you to compensate me for my losses.’ And then we’re going to be in a situation where it’ll probably be cheaper to settle that than fighting it our in court.”

The legislation raised more questions than sponsor state Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, could answer at its first hearing in November.

“Can you give me an example of how the government, counties or cities, causes a loss?” asked state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

Hutson responded: “The possibilities are endless of what they could do.”

More than a dozen spoke against it at that hearing.

Ida Eskamani, of Florida Rising, told the committee: “Members, we ask that you please stop this long list of state interference that we’ve seen in this body by protecting our local freedoms.”

John Harris Mauer, representing Equality Florida, told senators that local governments need all their tools.

“What we know is that local governments should be able to enact ordinances that serve and protect their communities,” said Harris Mauer.

All four Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted no.

So far, this legislation has gotten more traction in the Senate, where it’s supported by the Senate president.

State lawmakers begin their annual 60-day session on Jan. 11, and if SB 620 becomes law, businesses will have to have been in operation for at least three years to be eligible to sue. They must also provide 180 days’ notice before filing suit.

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