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Gainesville City Commission votes to file complaint against HB 1

In a 4-3 vote, Commissioners take a stand to protect local control from state overreach

GAINESVILLE, FL  --Yesterday, the Gainesville City Commission voted to file a complaint against the Combating Violence, Disorder, and Looking and Law Enforcement Protection Act, also known as HB 1. 

Passed and signed into law in April 2021, the massive law erases the ability of local governments to pass budgets responsive to their communities’ needs, in addition to undermining the free speech and assembly of all Floridians.

“The last year and a half has reminded us just how important it is for our communities to have a voice and to be heard. HB 1 undermines that very foundation. Our communities have every right to determine how resources are invested in order to reflect our needs,” said Commissioner Gail Johnson. “I am so proud of our city and the Commissioners who voted for this complaint. We are leading the fight against a law we know only exists to harm our communities.” 

Gainesville began discussing the possibility of filing a lawsuit challenging HB1 in May 2021. Following today’s vote, the Public Rights Project, Community Justice Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) intend to file the lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of Florida cities. 

“In Florida and across the country, we have seen more state efforts this legislative session to interfere with local democracy and undermine racial justice than ever before,” said LiJia Gong, Counsel at Public Rights Project and a member of the Local Solutions Support Center Legal Team. “The people of Florida voted to amend the state Constitution in 1968 to give cities like Gainesville home rule to be able to make local decisions that are responsive to community voices. HB 1 seeks to strip the city of this core local authority and stifles much-needed debate about the reimagination of public safety. We look forward to filing a lawsuit on behalf of the City of Gainesville and we are thankful that the Commissioners entrusted us with this important responsibility.” 

“The racial animus of HB 1 is clear.” said Berbeth Foster, Staff Attorney at Community Justice Project. “Millions of Americans took to the streets to say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and in response, their peaceful protests for justice are now described as ‘riots.’ Black and Brown communities demanded alternatives to public safety, now municipalities are hampered from controlling their budgeting processes. HB 1 is as big a threat to local autonomy as it is to free speech. Municipal governments like Gainesville must stand up to this loosely veiled attempt to block the progress made by racial justice advocates.” 

“Local governments are those closest to communities. It is critical that they are able to make policy and budgetary decisions that are inclusive of and responsive to the most pressing needs. HB 1 undermines that ability. We applaud Gainesville for its leadership in protecting local control and local democracy,” said Local Progress Executive Director Sarah Johnson. “We hope other localities across the state will join the fight. We know this fight in Florida is being watched closely by communities in nearly every state, where similar legislation was passed or is on a fast track to becoming law. 

“Gainesville should be commended for standing up to this undemocratic and unconstitutional law,” said Bacardi Jackson, managing attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “By joining this litigation, the city is stating that it has a right to control its own budget. The commissioners of Gainesville and other cities are elected by their constituents to make informed budget decisions, including whether to increase or decrease their police funding based on the best interests and needs of their communities. Those decisions should not be illegally preempted by the political whims of state officials. The Governor and Cabinet do not have any legal authority to force a city to increase its law enforcement spending when the city decides funds would be better spent elsewhere.”

The law is also being challenged in a federal lawsuit brought by community-based organizations dedicated to racial justice across Florida for violating First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly.