A lust for control in Tallahassee | Steve Bousquet

Even though the Florida Constitution grants broad home rule powers to local governments, the obsession with a systematic state takeover of local government grows every year, and has become an epidemic. writes Sun Sentinel Columnist Steve Bousquet. (AP)

A lot was going on in the late 1980s. City leaders had just decided to part ways with the drunkenness and debauchery of spring break. Crack cocaine was everywhere. I-595 and a gleaming new performing arts center were coming, and voters would soon elect their first “strong mayor” in Bob Cox, an old-style conservative in a crewcut and Topsiders.

As a first-time homeowner in town, I felt part of the community that I covered for The Herald (at a time when the newspaper had dropped “Miami” from its masthead in Broward).

What kept things interesting was an engaged citizenry and a network of homeowner association leaders who hung out at City Hall, read the newspapers and seemed to have opinions on everything.

In Lauderdale, home rule was alive and well. Residents felt as if they had a personal stake in government decisions — a good thing.

The politicians who ran the state — mostly Democrats — decided it was wrong that 400 cities and towns each had separate gun control laws. They decided it would be better if legislators regulated concealed weapons everywhere, with a handful of people in Tallahassee writing the rules.

An important part of their motivation was to wipe out restrictive gun laws in Broward and Miami-Dade counties that included waiting periods to buy guns. The National Rifle Association opposed waiting periods and favored a state preemption of local gun laws.

After the bill passed, newspapers across the country ran wire stories about people packing heat on Main Street, with local law enforcement leaders warning of the dangers of lax gun laws.

Ever since, regulation of guns has been the sole province of the state. Even though the Florida Constitution grants broad home rule powers to local governments, the obsession with a systematic state takeover of local government grows every year, and has become an epidemic.

The notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful, one-size-fits-all central state government, based in faraway Tallahassee, easily accessible to well-paid lobbyists with generous travel budgets and to hardly anyone else, is a very scary proposition.

This session alone, lawmakers — Republicans, mostly — were determined to override local regulations on trees, plastic straws, short-term vacation rentals, vegetable gardens, legal notices, impact fees, employment screenings, telecommunications, wetlands, memorials, monuments, occupational licenses and marketing tobacco products.

Quite a few of those proposals did not become law, thanks largely to the Senate’s restraint. That only means that they will be filed again for the next session, which will begin in January at the dawn of an election year.

“Uniformity is important throughout the state, particularly in areas of high density,” House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, told reporters Wednesday when questioned why the state should now regulate the marketing of tobacco products — something the industry wants.

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