TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — The state of Florida could face another legal challenge from right here in Tallahassee. This time, from what's known as the anti riot law.
The 'Combating Violence, Disorder, Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Bill' became law April of 2021.
The bill touched on many issues birthed from a summer of protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and here locally Tony McDade.
Signed into law April 19th, 2021, the bill allows local police to challenge budgets, opens cities to liability for poor riot control, and creates or strengthens penalties against those it deems rioters.
Now the City of Tallahassee is looking into litigation focused specifically on the part of the bill that addresses budgets for police departments. City attorney Cassandra Jackson says the piece that gives the Governor the authority to alter the budgets of local governments should they reduce their law enforcement budgets is at the center of city's concerns.
"One of the issues that is of most concern is the loss of home rule. that is their ability to control what their constituents want in the budget," said Jackson.
At the upcoming city commission meeting, the commission will decide if it wants to join the City of Gainesville in challenging the Governor's Office.
Tallahassee is now looking into findings from other legal nonprofits.
Non-profit organizations Public Rights Project, Community Justice Project, and Southern Poverty Law Center, and the private law firm of Jenner and Block have five claims asserting Florida cities have standing to legally challenge the bill.
According the commissioner agenda item, those legal challenges include:
Claim One: Separation of Powers
Under the Florida Constitution, no branch of government can exercise the powers of another branch and no branch can assign its constitutionally given powers to another branch. Fla. Const. art. II, § 3; Smith v. State, 537 So. 2d 982, 987 (Fla. 1989). HB 1 assigns two fundamentally legislative powers to the executive branch. First, HB 1 gives the Governor and his cabinet the ability through the municipal budget revision process to reduce appropriations of public funds. Second, HB 1 gives the Governor and his cabinet the ability to revise municipal decisions with binding effect.
Claim Two: Nondelegation Doctrine
To the extent the legislative branch had some authority to delegate to the executive branch, HB 1 violates the nondelegation doctrine that provides that any delegation of legislative functions must be accompanied by “some minimal standards and guidelines ascertainable by reference to the enactment establishing the program. The lack of standards allows the Administration Commission to make arbitrary decisions about municipal budgets with no meaningful oversight or guiding principles.
Claim Three: Single Subject Rule
The Florida Constitution prohibits a law from addressing multiple unconnected issues and requires a bill’s title to express the subject of the legislation. Fla. Const. art. III, § 6. HB 1 violates this rule because it combines two distinct and unrelated legal objectives into one law: Section 1 institutes a process for executive review of local budgeting decisions and the other provisions of the law impose criminal penalties on individuals for protest-related activities. Additionally, it is unclear how the HB 1’s title “[a]n act relating to combating public disorder” relates to the municipal budgeting provisions.
Claim Four: Unfunded Mandate
The Florida Constitution generally prohibits the passage of any state legislation that requires municipalities to spend funds or to take actions that require the expenditure of funds unless the state provides or authorizes a revenue stream. Fla. Const. art. VII, § 18. HB 1 requires a municipality to expend funds in order to maintain the previous year’s law enforcement budget. The state has provided no revenue to maintain such funding, nor has it authorized a new municipal funding stream.
Claim Five: Home Rule
Florida allows municipalities to adopt a home rule charter which grants them broad powers to meet municipal needs. HB 1 impedes this function by creating a process through which the state can usurp control of the municipal budget and unilaterally revise the budget with binding effect on the municipality.
"It also an extremely legislative function that usually is left to the legislative branch and not executive. having the governor have input and control into the budget is contrary to the Florida constitution," said City Attorney Jackson.
While DeSantis' law aims to block any attempts at 'defunding the police', Tallahassee City Commissioner Curtis Richardson says this legal action isn't about that.
"One of the things that we have determined is public safety is a number one priority for the City of Tallahassee. We're going to give our law enforcement agencies the resources that they need in order to keep our citizens safe," said Commissioner Richardson, "I can't see us defunding our police department if we're going to be taken away the tools that they need and feel are necessary to keep our Community safe that's not our situation here that's not our goal."
Commissioner Richardson says this legal action is instead about securing home rule.
"Our goal is to make sure that as a city Commission, we have the authority to determine what the funding for our local law enforcement agency will be and not the governor usurping that authority from us to do that," he said.
A vocal supporter of the law, Leon county Republican Party Chairman Evan Power sent ABC 27 a statement saying
"The city should be responding to our numerous shootings and out of control crime instead of fighting a bill that protects police and every day citizens from looting, rioting, and arson."
If the city decides to join the litigation, the legal groups will work pro bono, meaning the City of Tallahassee doesn't pay for the lawsuit.
Counsel for Governor Ron DeSantis sent this statement in response to the upcoming discussion.
“The Governor’s Office does not comment on pending litigation before it has been filed, other than to say that we will strongly defend the law, which lawfully protects businesses, supports law enforcement, and punishes those who cause violence in our communities.”