Commissioners frustrated by ‘anti-pet protection’ and other state bills

Seminole County Commissioners weighed in on “puppy mill” bans and the state taking control away from municipalities in response to an update by their state lobbyist May 10.

Oscar Anderson, who represents the county for lobbying purposes in Tallahassee, gave an update on bills in the most recent legislative session and what lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Florida House and Senate were considering for the future.

Much of the talk during the County Commission meeting’s legislative update segment surrounded bills involving “attacks on home rule” or attempts by the state to supersede the authority of cities and counties. Late in 2021 and earlier this year, local city commissioners and councilpersons had objected to the state legislature’s erosion of home rule, such as nullification of local tree preservation ordinances and superseding of bans on many types of home businesses that cities had previously sought to prevent.

“Enough is enough,” Winter Springs Deputy Mayor Kevin Cannon said in December. “There is no way that I think we should cave on this.”

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Several members of the Winter Springs City Commission have expressed a need to fight the state legislature to stop it from taking away the rights of municipalities to govern themselves. But new bills taking control from cities and counties and putting them in the state’s hands have continued to be proposed.

Florida House Bill 849 and Florida Senate Bill 994 would have made it illegal for local governments to create new laws prohibiting pet sales at pet supply stores. “You guys have [banned pet sales] for a while so it doesn’t impact you but it’s another attack on home rule authority,” Anderson said. That bill failed, but provisions in it became part of Florida Senate Bill 620, which passed through the legislature and onto Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

Florida Senate Bill 620 is a broader bill that would financially punish city and county governments for the financial impact of regulating businesses. Any business affected by new local legislation that causes the business a financial loss greater than 15 percent would be able to sue for the potential money lost, and those lawsuits would be fast-tracked through the legal system. That includes crackdowns on businesses such as pet sales and so-called “pill mill” businesses that sell prescription drugs.

“This bill will likely have a chilling effect on local governments’ ability to enact meaningful, popular legislation when we really need to be able to put forth regulation in our municipalities,” State Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, said in March before voting against the bill, which passed the Florida Senate and House but has yet to be signed into law by DeSantis.

“The Pet Protection [bill], which is really the anti-pet protection…I know what it’s called and I know what it is,” Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine said. “The reason why 620 may be vetoed is the governor has a soft spot for governments that may be trying to eliminate the puppy mills, which we did way earlier than most counties.”

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 80 Florida cities banned the sale of pets by pet stores by January of this year in an attempt to curb “puppy mill” breeding operations.

In another home-rule related bill, the Florida legislature passed a law allowing cities and counties to regulate smoking on public beaches except for one type of smoking – unfiltered cigars.

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