House Bill 815 would prohibit foreign business travel to municipal officers and make them disclose their out-of-state travel plans in a public hearing.
At least three City Commissioners are not on board with a legislative bill currently in session that they feel threatens home rule — a bill that Florida Rep. Tom Leek supported in a subcommittee meeting, and would prohibit foreign travel for municipal officials as well as require out-of-state travel be approved in a public hearing.
“It’s just so outrageous that the state legislature would deem it necessary to dictate to cities and counties where we can travel and how much we can spend on hotel rooms etcetera, etcetera," said City Commissioner Dwight Selby during his closing comments at the Jan. 16 City Commission meeting.
House Bill 815 received 12 yeses and 2 nays at the Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee meeting on Jan. 10. The billsseeks to promote transparency among municipalities regarding their travel covered by taxpayer funds and make officials disclose their full plans, including a detailed list of travel expenses, in an official meeting where the public has a right to comment.
However, the bill only applies to municipalities. Elected constitutional officers are provided with an exemption.
That didn't sit well with City Commissioner Rick Boehm.
“It baffles me that there are people we have elected who feel compelled to try to prevent us from doing our job," he said.
He said all they hear from the Florida League of Cities are warnings that legislature is seeking ways to preempt local rule. This bill would be an example of that.
“What right to they have to decide for us whether or not we can go seek business for Ormond Beach or Volusia County and seek to prohibit our ability to do those things?” Boehm said.
Despite voicing some concerns about the bill in relation to emergency travel by municipal officers and the foreign travel ban it would instate, Leek voted in favor of House Bill 815. So, Selby wrote him a "cordial" email stating his position about whether or not the state needed to be involved in this issue. Selby said Leek responded and told him the point was that other parts of the state abuse the travel opportunities, which is why the bill is needed.
Selby said he got the feeling like in third grade when the whole class gets punished for a couple of bad actors.
“He indicated to me that it might not go anywhere, but I’m not confident in that at all," Selby said.
City Commissioner Rob Littleton, who was in Tallahassee for Volusia Days last week, said House Bill 815 is not the only one they should be keeping an eye on. He mentioned a two bills that would limit the number of terms for TPO and school board officials, and said he wouldn't be surprised if in four years, there was one to limit municipal office terms.
“Tallahassee is eventually going to run everything and maybe we just come up here for a paycheck and don’t actually have to govern anything important," Littleton said.
For Boehm, House Bill 815 is an example of legislature's attack on home rule.
“I have no idea why, particularly the speaker of the house, has it in for cities and wishes to limit or hamper the ability of cities and counties to govern themselves, but they do," Boehm said.
The 2018 legislative session ends on March 9.