(The Center Square) – With a lawsuit challenging a 2011 law that penalizes local governments and officials for adopting firearms ordinances potentially bound for the state’s Supreme Court, Florida is doubling down on preemption with a new law punishing cities and counties that implement “unwritten” gun policies.
Senate Bill 1884, adopted by both chambers in partisan votes – Rep. Mike Grieco, D-Miami Beach, was the only lawmaker to break party ranks – was one of 15 bills signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis Friday without comment.
The law, which goes into effect July 1, clarifies provisions in a 2011 statute that holds local governments liable for up to $100,000 if sued for imposing gun regulations in violation of the 1987 preemption. Under the statute, local officials also face $5,000 fines and removal from office.
Under SB 1884, filed by Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, “unwritten” firearms policies implemented by local officials – such as “oral instructions given within a law enforcement agency” – could be targeted in lawsuits. Even if gun-related policies are changed to avoid court, local governments would still be liable for damages and attorney fees.
Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, who sponsored SB 1884’s House companion, said during an April 28 floor debate the measure will “send a message” to local governments
“I brought this forward so that local governments will once-and-for-all stop violating rights and stop wasting taxpayer money,” said Byrd, who cited examples of local gun-related ordinances despite the 1987 preemption, such as a Broward County ordinance prohibiting people from carrying weapons at airports and in taxis.
Byrd said the bill imposes no new penalties and prevents local governments from playing “whack-a-mole” with pop-up ordinances repealed when they draw legal challenges.
“Local governments thumbed their nose at this Legislature and said, ‘We do not care,’” Byrd said, noting firearms regulation under the 10th Amendment is a state, not local, matter.
But local governments have public safety regulatory authority under the 14th Amendment, Democrats and gun safety groups said, citing a string of Sunshine State mass shootings that prompted constituents to demand city and counties address gun violence.
“If the state doesn’t want to take any action against the gun lobby, stop prohibiting local governments from doing that,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, whose House district includes Pulse nightclub where 49 were murdered in a 2016 shooting.
Ultimately, the long-simmering 10th vs. 14th amendment battle could be decided by the Florida Supreme Court after 30 cities, three counties and more than 70 local officials challenged the 2011 law in the wake of 2018’s Valentine’s Day Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17.
In July 2019, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled the 2011 law is unconstitutional in 15-page decision that upheld the 1987 preemption law but stipulated, “Because local governments must have what amount to small legislatures, and because courts cannot interfere in legislative processes, neither this court, nor any other court in Florida, can enforce the civil penalty provisions (of the law) against local legislators.”
DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody appealed Dodson’s ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal (DCA), which in April upheld the 2011 law.
Local government attorneys filed an April 23 motion requesting the 1st DCA send “questions of great public importance” to the Supreme Court to place “key issues” raised in the lawsuit on the docket for deliberation.
Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, who represents the House district that includes Stoneman Douglas High, said the case is likely to be heard by the Supreme Court for one obvious reason: “There’s no other preemption in state law that has these grave” penalties.