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Gainesville challenged a Florida law about police budgets, but lawmakers just revised it

Gainesville police locate car involved in Monday’s fatal hit-and-run
Gainesville police locate car involved in Monday’s fatal hit-and-run

TALLAHASSEE — Amid a constitutional challenge by a group of cities, Florida lawmakers have approved revamping a 2021 law aimed at shielding police departments from budget cuts.

Leon County Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh last week put on hold the legal challenge, saying the “parties need time to confer with their clients about the impact” of a bill (HB 1595) that received final approval from the Senate on May 1. The Legislature formally sent the bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday.

The issue stems from a controversial measure that lawmakers and DeSantis approved in 2021 after nationwide protests the previous year following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Part of the 2021 legislation enhanced penalties and created new crimes for protests that turn violent. But the law also created a process in which state attorneys or certain local elected officials could appeal decisions by municipalities to reduce funding for police departments.

Under the law, such appeals would go to the state Administration Commission, which is made up of the governor and members of the Cabinet. The Administration Commission would have authority to approve challenged local budgets or to make changes.

The cities of Tallahassee, Gainesville, Lauderhill, Miramar, North Miami Beach and Wilton Manors challenged the constitutionality of the police-budget part of the law. In part, they argued that the law violates home-rule powers and improperly delegates local budget authority to the governor and Cabinet.

An amended version of the lawsuit filed in November said the law “contains no standards or guidelines for the Administration Commission to follow in carrying out the Legislature’s intent” and gives “unfettered legislative discretion to the executive branch.”

“Plaintiffs’ decision-making and planning is currently impacted by the presence of this executive commandeering process,” the lawsuit said. “As plaintiffs implement their current year’s budgets and make plans that affect current or future spending on law enforcement, they run the risk … of having their budgets commandeered. Thus, plaintiffs can only avoid this interference by, at a minimum, maintaining the same level of law enforcement funding.”

Marsh last year rejected a state request to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the case “goes to the heart” of the division of power between elected officials at different levels of government.

The bill that passed the House on April 28 and the Senate on May 1 would, in part, take away the authority of the governor and Cabinet to decide the police-budget issues.

It would lead to appeals going to the state Division of Administrative Hearings, where administrative law judges would hold hearings and consider a number of factors, including the grounds for local governments to reduce police budgets; police budgets in communities of comparable size; police staffing needs; and revenue changes.

The bill also would only allow challenges to budget reductions of more than 5 percent — a limitation that was not included in the 2021 law. Administrative law judges would issue orders that could be appealed to a state appellate court.

The revision was included in a broader bill that dealt with the duties of county sheriffs and received relatively little attention during this year’s legislative session.

During brief comments April 28, House sponsor Taylor Yarkosky, R-Montverde, said the bill “expedites the administrative proceedings for a police department to be able to appeal their budget should they believe it’s been taken from them unjustly that would affect public safety.”

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.