Susan Fetter
You may have seen one of many articles by a variety of Florida publications bemoaning the proposed state law to nullify all local ordinances governing tree removal on private property. The publications have often framed this as a knee jerk reaction from one state senator who was directed to dispose of some trees by county code rather than his own desires. While this is true, they are missing the mark if they aren’t further explaining that this is one small part of an intentional big business effort to move power from the local level to the state level, known as preemption.
The problem with the trees is only a symptom.
Here in Lake County, we have elected approximately 118 officials to guide us in providing education, law enforcement, clean water and resource management inside the county and in municipalities.
These people live here in Lake and understand our specific needs. For example, Lake County has decided that trees are valuable assets and requires that you get a permit before removing them based on size and species. Mount Dora has decided to value trees even further and has their own permit requirements for tree removal.
Many areas of law are subject to this preemption issue. Florida statute prevents municipalities from banning plastic grocery bags if they choose, much of the decision making around charter schools has been removed from local control of school boards, and there are ongoing efforts at the state level to require local law enforcement agencies to prioritize immigration enforcement. Another issue active in the legislature is preemption of any city’s ability to make rules regulating short term vacation rentals. These are all examples of issues that are best decided by the elected officials who understand local priorities and challenges.
Preemption is being coordinated nationally by the American Legislative Exchange Council or “ALEC.” Read their website closely and interpret it based on what is happening here in Florida. Most of their platform issues reveal their goal of strong state level control in a myriad of areas. You’ll see statements such as, “The states should continue to expand parent choice” for public schools and “… promote environmental conservation stewardship on the state level.” They are doing this by preempting local rules rather than providing a useful framework for counties to use when determining their own best interest.
Why are they doing this? As with so many things, it can be traced back to big money from major corporations.
Charter school companies make more money if local school boards are forced to accept private schools with fewer safety regulations. Fertilizer sales rules were preempted in after heavy lobbying by the chemical companies who feared loss of sales and a newly announced bill proposes preemption of laws regulating vacation rentals (SB 1400). Presumably, this will help the hotel industry.
Who is doing this? All of the current members of Lake County’s legislative delegation members confirmed that they support ALEC at a recent town hall meeting in Tavares.
South Lake Senator Kelli Stargel was the state chair for ALEC last year.
If you believe that the 118 people already representing us in Lake County are best suited to make decisions for our county, then it is time to act. Vote with care in this year’s election cycle. Quiz your state office candidates on their stance on local control. Do they believe that a city or county should be able to act in their own best interest? Do they believe that power should be close to the voters?
Do you expect the state government to provide guidance rather than discipline?
Also, don’t forget to contact your state representatives and ask them to vote “No” on preemption of local tree ordinances as proposed in House Bill 521 and Senate Bill 574.