Arroyo says constant filing of amendments makes it impossible to know what will be in final version of Senate Bill 522
This week, Sarasota Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo was the sole member of the City Commission to oppose a resolution seeking to prevent further state action that would restrict local governments’ ability to regulate short-term vacation rentals in their jurisdictions.
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch asked for the discussion of the latest bills to be included on the board’s March 15 agenda.
“I think everyone is well aware of the efforts in the state Legislature to again try to pre-empt local municipalities from regulating short-term vacation rentals,” Ahearn-Koch said during the March 15 meeting. “We have been opposing this effort” since before she joined the commission in May 2017, she added. “We are doing what we can at our local level to try to figure out what makes sense for us here in the city of Sarasota,” she pointed out.
Referring to Senate Bill 522, Ahearn-Koch continued, “This is a very important bill to oppose,” as emphasized by the Florida League of Cities.
Under a section titled “PREEMPTION AUTHORITY,” the original version of the bill said, “The regulation of public lodging establishments, including vacation rentals, and public food service establishments, including but not limited to, sanitation standards, licensing, inspections, training and testing of personnel, and matters related to the nutritional content and marketing of foods offered in such establishments, is expressly preempted to the state. A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not allow or require the local inspection or licensing of public lodging establishments, including vacation rentals, or public food service establishments.”
The original bill added, “A local law, ordinance, or regulation may regulate activities that arise when a property is used as a vacation rental if the law, ordinance, or regulation applies uniformly to all residential properties without regard to whether the property is used as a vacation rental as defined in [Section 509.242 of the Florida Statutes], the property is used as a long-term rental subject to chapter 83, or the property owner chooses not to rent the property.
“However, a local law, ordinance, or regulation may not prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals. The prohibitions set forth in this paragraph do not apply to any local law, ordinance, or regulation adopted on or before June 1, 2011, including when such law, ordinance, or regulation is being amended to be less restrictive with regard to a prohibition, duration, or frequency regulation,” the original version added.
On March 15, Florida Senate records show, the sections above were amended to read, “A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals. This paragraph does not apply to any local law, ordinance, or regulation adopted on or before June 1, 2011, including when such law, ordinance, or regulation is amended to be less restrictive.”
As of March 16, the bill had been approved by the Regulated Industries and Appropriations committees in the state Senate, and it was in the Senate Rules Committee.
The companion bill in the Florida House is HB 219.
A top priority
A number of the City of Sarasota’s “neighboring municipalities already have adopted resolutions calling for legislators to vote against SB 522, Ahearn-Koch reported to her colleagues on March 15.
She hoped her fellow commissioners would support a proposed resolution in their March 15 agenda packets, she added, so they could send it to Tallahassee. Defeating the new regulations is one of the Florida League of Cities’ top priorities this year, she said.
Vice Mayor Arroyo then told his colleagues he was in Tallahassee the previous week, meeting with representatives of the League and the city’s legislative delegation.
“A lot of people in Tallahassee can’t even tell you what the bill is because it’s constantly changing,” he stressed. “Some of the new provisions require registration at the state level, which will eliminate all of the inconsistencies between [regulations of] municipalities.”
Therefore, he pointed out, “We don’t even know what we’re approving here.”
Moreover, Arroyo continued, he feels the commissioners should stop adopting resolutions and taking other actions that could be construed as their picking “winners and losers.”
When Mayor Hagen Brody called on Commissioner Liz Alpert for comments, she noted that she was on a conference call that morning with League representatives, who have been trying to conduct “virtual Legislative Days.” (Traditionally, the League and the Florida Association of Counties select certain days during each annual legislative session when the organizations encourage their members to come to Tallahassee to talk with legislators about issues of importance to them, as well as League and Association priorities.)
Alpert added that, based on the morning’s discussion, she believed amendments already had been approved that would eliminate the worst provisions of SB 522. League staff members attributed the filing of those amendments to the fact that legislators have been hearing their constituents’ opposition to facets of the bill.
As a result of that, Alpert told her colleagues, “I don’t know that we want to necessarily oppose the bill.”
Nonetheless, Alpert said, the commissioners need to keep stressing to members of Sarasota County’s legislative delegation that they want to maintain control of short-term vacation rental regulations.
Commissioner Kyle Scott Battie concurred with Alpert.
“This [issue] did come up quite a bit” when he was in Tallahassee the previous week, Mayor Brody said. The sections of the Senate bill that would take away local controls largely were stripped from it, he added. That action, Brody continued, was “a huge win for home rule in municipalities.”
Then he voiced agreement with Alpert’s comments, too.
Perhaps the best step would be to amend the language in the proposed city resolution to put the focus on opposition to future pre-emption measures, Brody suggested.
Further, State Rep. Will Robinson Jr. (R-Bradenton) of District 71, who represents part of the city of Sarasota, told him that local governments should “use restraint,” Brody pointed out, when approving their own regulations.
Robinson’s plea was a response to local governments’ actions getting “‘thrown in our face all the time when municipalities go overboard,’” Brody said, quoting Robinson.
Short-term vacation rentals should be handled by local governments in general, Brody continued, “because [the regulations] are so location-specific.” Situations on Lido Key are quite different from those in Polk County, for example, Brody said.
Brody then asked Ahearn-Koch whether she would be willing to amend the language in the proposed resolution on the board’s agenda that night.
“I was also on the Florida League of Cities call [that morning],” she responded. As she understood the discussion, Ahearn-Koch continued, the League still opposes the Senate bill and wants its members to do the same. However, the League has asked members to support the amendments, as well, Ahearn-Koch added. “The original bill is what we’re still opposing.”
In response to a question from Ahearn-Koch, City Attorney Robert Fournier suggested how the proposed resolution could be revised to make it clear that the commissioners do not want to see SB 522 win passage in its original form.
However, Commissioner Alpert proposed revising the resolution to say that the board members oppose state pre-emption of local authority over short-term vacation rentals. “I think I feel more comfortable going about it that way rather than naming any particular bill,” she added. “They’ll know which bill.”
“I’m OK with that,” Ahearn-Koch replied.
Alpert ended up making the motion to that effect, and Ahearn-Koch seconded it.
Fournier also called for deleting references to the bills and related language in the title of the resolution.
“OK,” Alpert told him.
When City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs conducted the roll call for the commissioners’ votes on the revised resolution, the vice mayor was the only one who said, “No.”