“The United States is a nation of laws: badly written and randomly enforced,” quipped Frank Zappa. While it’s usually a bad idea to seek political wisdom from rock stars, certain politicians on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) — a committee that meets every 20 years to propose changes to our state’s constitution — are trying to prove Zappa right with their benignly named but seriously wrongheaded Proposal 95 (P95).
Political and economic uncertainty can often be traced back to sloppily written laws. Unfortunately, P95 is such a law. It states that local governments “may only regulate commerce, trade or labor occurring specifically within the respective entity’s own boundaries.” At first, it smacks of reasonableness — but the devil is in the details. Not only is this proposal an affront to localism, it’s too vague, too broad and bad for business, bad for cities and bad for citizens.
According to P95, large companies with offices in two or more local jurisdictions would be exempt from many local laws. However, many, if not most, local businesses serve customers well beyond their home city’s jurisdiction. A local pizza joint may deliver to nearby neighborhoods, a local florist may send flowers out of town and countless local retailers ship to far-flung destinations thanks to online sales.
Read broadly, P95 would bar local regulation of such businesses. In essence, P95’s ambiguous language will produce a rash of unintended consequences — casting companies into regulatory gray areas and leaving local governments uncertain of their roles and responsibilities.
The proposal also has economic implications that undermine the free market and upend the level playing field. Ultimately, P95 creates a two-track system of regulation for like businesses within the same local jurisdiction: one for businesses that are regulated by local governments and one for businesses that are not. That creates more confusion and less certainty — ultimately, it may distort a company’s business decisions in a way that’s unhealthy for the economy.
And P95 creates a “contractor loophole.” With P95, contractors from other communities need not play by the same rules as their local competitors. If a contractor is based in a different town, neither their home city nor the city in which they operate would be free to regulate their activities. That’s a potential danger to the health, safety and welfare of Floridians. That’s the opposite of “home-field advantage,” it’s the “hometown handicap.”
Finally, given the shared values within most communities, the more local a decision, the more likely it is to achieve consensus. When problems arise within communities, local leaders are typically well-suited to mediating the concerns of those affected by their decisions. In essence, they are accountable. P95 contorts a practical regulatory system into one that confusingly shifts jurisdiction or leaves some businesses trapped in a regulatory gray area.
P95 is up for a vote today in the CRC’s Local Government Committee. It may seem technical, but real issues are at stake.
GIL ZIFFER, TALLAHASSEE
Editor’s note: Gil Ziffer is a Tallahassee city commissioner and president of the Florida League of Cities.