APA Florida: HB 7103 Creates Barrier to Comp Plan Enforcement

Add your voice and urge Gov. DeSantis to veto this bill

HB 7103, as amended on the floor, creates a significant barrier to, and a chilling effect on, the ability of citizens to meaningfully enforce comprehensive plans that govern development in their communities.

The bill was amended on the floor to include a requirement that the prevailing party in a challenge to a development order is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred in challenging or defending the order, including reasonable appellate attorney fees and costs.  It does not appear to have been discussed in any committee of reference for this bill, or the Senate version, SB 1730, nor was it the subject of any staff analysis or public testimony presented to the committee members.  APA Florida tracked both HB 7103 and SB 1730, companion bills, since they were filed in March, and was engaged, along with other stakeholders, on provisions in the bills dealing with affordable housing. We are gravely concerned that a bill amendment such as this, with far-reaching impacts, would be considered without going through the committee process and thus bypassing the opportunity for public input.

This bill will have a chilling effect on, and raise a true barrier to, citizen participation in the enforcement of local plans. It will also make it more difficult for applicants who are not well-funded to challenge local decisions on their development projects, even if they believe they can show that the decision was improper. It is a solution in search of a problem. The law already appropriately allows judges to award attorney’s fees against anyone who brings a consistency challenge for an improper purpose such as to cause unnecessary delay or frivolous purposes. As such, this bill will not have an effect on reducing these types of challenges. Instead, now those who are forced to bring suit to defend their real interest with respect to issues addressed by comprehensive plans will be faced with the additional burden of deciding if they can take the risk of not only having to pay their own attorney fees but also those of the other parties. 

The bill also removes the authority for the Department of Legal Affairs to intervene in such challenges to represent the interests of the state, so these citizen and interest group challenges are truly the only means of policing the compliance of development orders with comprehensive plans.

Please consider joining us in urging Governor DeSantis to veto this bill.  You can call at (850) 717-9337, reach him via email at flgov.com/email-the-governor/, or tweet him at @GovRonDeSantis.