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Lee County leaders call out Governor DeSantis and state lawmakers for attacking "home rule"

Downtown Fort Myers
Posted at 7:39 PM, Feb 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-01 19:40:29-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — With the recent bills in Tallahassee local leaders in Lee County have been vocal when it comes to protecting, what is often referred to as, "home rule".

For Sarah Wilson, with the Lee County NAACP, the breaking point is a bill that would make it illegal to remove or destroy historic monuments.

"Municipalities have the right to say what happens in their city or in their county," Wilson said. "This is more authoritative government by our state trying to seize power from local government."

For Fort Myers City Councilman Johnny Streets says it's a state bill that would ban citizen police review boards. The city of Fort Myers is one of a handful of cities in the state with these boards to look at law enforcement interactions with the public.

"Those who are in Tallahassee, doing this stint in session--stop trying to take things away from the local counties and cities to to do their own business," Streets said.

For former Fort Myers Beach council member Bill Veach, it was the new law that forced local elected officials to disclose their personal finances. He left the council over what is referred to as "Rule 6", requiring transparency of most assets and liabilities more than $1,000.

"This is an intent to damage home rule, which the state has been trying to do for years," Veach said.

Three different scenarios, but the same bottom line.

"Each of these represents the state taking over from historically which has been a local government option," said Peter Bergerson, a retired professor.

Bergerson taught political science for 55 years at Florida Gulf Coast University.

He said state lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to issues the state didn't traditionally deal with.

"Two of the issues really have a distinct social context to them as well as a political context to them," Bergerson said. "I see these within the definition of what the governor sees as being woke."

Brownlee asked Bergerson if it's a fair statement that the Republican party is considered the party who doesn't want the higher government overstepping when it comes to polices.

"Sure, historically Republican party have been one in which they have been an advocate for less rules and or regulations, with less government intervention and involvement," Bergerson said. "These actions or decisions seem to be contrary to their historical positions."

When asked if there's anything local governments can do to fight back, Bergerson said in some cases they can challenge new laws in court, but that takes a long time and gets expensive.

He added in most cases, there's not much they can do, short of trying to change public opinion and voting in new lawmakers.