In April 2021, the Florida Legislature enacted the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act, also known as HB 1. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other leading proponents of HB 1 were explicit: HB 1 was a direct response to – and a means to oppose – the summer 2020 Black community-led protests advocating for racial justice and an end to police violence.
After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1, the Southern Poverty Law Center and its co-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of nine Florida cities challenging the law as a violation of the state constitution.
Passed in the aftermath of nationwide demonstrations over the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, HB 1 was designed to thwart local governments working with communities to reimagine their law enforcement budgets.
HB 1 is an example of state preemption, the removal of authority from local governments through legislation. It is used as a tool to block new local ordinances from taking effect, dismantle existing ordinances, limit local democracy and decision making, and bar municipal efforts to advance justice. The threat of state interference also deters other cities from considering such reforms in the first place.
While preemption is a threat nationwide, it is used most frequently in Southern states. A report by the Economic Policy Institute found that the “use of preemption in the South is deeply intertwined with a long history of events and actions that have reinforced anti-Black racism and white supremacy.”
Under HB 1, if a local budget proposes a funding reduction to a law enforcement agency – regardless of the reason – the state attorney or a local commissioner can appeal the budget to Florida’s Administration Commission, which is made up of the governor and his cabinet. As a result, the municipality loses control of its budget while the Administration Commission has “full authority to revise the municipality’s police budget, line by line, behind closed doors, and without the level of community input widely guaranteed in the local budgeting process,” according to the lawsuit. This section of HB 1 essentially nullifies the voices of those who are advocating for local change.
The state constitution prohibits inserting the governor and his cabinet between local governments and their constituents in such a manner, and HB 1 should be declared unconstitutional, according to the lawsuit filed in Florida’s Leon County Circuit Court. The complaint was filed on behalf of the cities of Gainesville, Lauderhill, Lake Worth Beach, Miramar, North Bay Village, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Tallahassee and Wilton Manors.
Shortly after its enactment, HB 1 impacted municipal budgeting throughout Florida. The possibility of a budget override left cities reluctant to move local funds from law enforcement to community programs and projects.