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Six Florida Cities Succeed in Reducing Harm of HB 1, End Court Challenge

Florida legislature made critical changes to HB 1 in direct response to lawsuit

Tallahassee, Fla. — Today, six Florida cities ended their challenge to HB 1, a 2021 law introduced by Governor Ron DeSantis in response to the racial justice protests of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and others by police.

The law, which many deemed unconstitutional, dangerous, and racist, restricted the ability of municipalities to control their own law enforcement budgets. In direct response to the cities’ lawsuit and following a failed attempt by Governor DeSantis to dismiss the challenge in court, the state legislature made critical changes to the law that resolved the original version’s primary flaws.

“This is an important victory for local movement-building in Florida,” said Jonathan Miller, Chief Program Officer at Public Rights Project, which served as lead counsel in the case. “As this case demonstrates, when cities stand up against abuses of power and fight to protect the rights of their residents, they can win.”

“We commend the plaintiff cities for standing up to fight this undemocratic and unconstitutional law. By litigating this case, cities have asserted that they have the constitutional right to adopt budgets that reflect community priorities and values, including control of their own law enforcement budgets,” said Paul R. Chavez, Senior Supervising Attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “By forcing the legislature to amend the law, the cities have been vindicated in their decision to bring this challenge.”

In November 2021, the cities of Gainesville, Lauderhill, Miramar, North Miami Beach, Tallahassee, and Wilton Manors filed a constitutional challenge in state court in Leon County against the municipal budgeting provision in HB 1 that allowed any reduction in police funding to be directly appealable to the Administration Commission, which is led by Governor DeSantis. Joining Public Rights Project on the legal team were the Community Justice Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP.

HB 1 was initially challenged because it posed an unprecedented intrusion on local authorities’ ability to set budgets for law enforcement. Based on how the law was originally drafted, the cities faced great uncertainty about when and whether the appeal process could be triggered, for example, by making year-over-year budget changes due to one-time expenditures such as voluntary retirements, equipment purchased, or budget cuts due to COVID-19. Some cities were also uncertain about whether they could start pilot projects that might divert funding from law enforcement to other social services.

Among the issues raised in the cities’ case was that HB 1 could be triggered by any reduction, even if it was part of an across-the-board budget cut or very small. There were no standards for how appeals would be analyzed, and Governor DeSantis had already indicated that no budget cuts would be tolerated.

At a hearing in September 2022, the plaintiff cities were victorious against a motion filed by Governor DeSantis to dismiss the case. The parties were in the midst of discovery when the legislation (HB 1595) was passed on May 1, 2023. The new law resolves the original law’s primary flaws by creating a 5% threshold for budget reductions before any appeal can be lodged, removing appeals from the governor’s control, and establishing standards for an independent administrative law judge to apply.

“Local control and meaningful local democracy are precious values, as is civilian control over policing authority. I’m proud to stand with all those who make our legal and constitutional rights a reality on the ground,” said Tallahassee City Commissioner Jack Porter.

“I am proud to have been a part of this courageous coalition standing up to the Governor,” said Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam. “Local governments are crucial to building movements toward justice. We must be able to use all available tools to do so, including through our budgets. The City of Miramar is celebrating this victory in the name of home rule control.”

“We are pleased that the Florida legislature addressed critical defects in HB 1 identified in our complaint,” said Jenner & Block Partner John Flynn. “This win helps protect local control as guaranteed by the Florida constitution.”

“This case has shown Governor DeSantis and the Florida State Legislature that they cannot unconstitutionally preempt local authority without consequence. We commend the local elected officials and advocates in these six cities for their leadership in protecting the rights of their residents. Thanks to their work, cities across the country can use this case as a model for combating abusive preemption in their communities,” said Marissa Roy, Legal Team Lead at the Local Solutions Support Center.

The stipulation of dismissal filed with the Leon County court preserves the rights of the cities to challenge the amended budget process at a later date, particularly should any budget reductions be subject to an appeal to the administrative law judge in the future. Other parts of HB 1 — those focused on punishing public protest — remain subject to litigation in federal court.

“After over a year of fighting back against HB 1, today is a victory for everyone concerned about the law’s impact on home rule and participatory democracy,” said Francesca Menes, Deputy Organizing Director at Local Progress. “We know there’s still much to do as communities continue to organize to reimagine public safety. HB 1 reflects a troubling trend of state executives and legislatures undermining local democracy and further marginalizing communities often left out of governance. The end of this lawsuit reenergizes our fight against abusive state preemption — in Florida and across the country.”