Sensitive that DeSantis, the Cabinet is hearing the calls of the local government’s comprehensive plan?
Governor Ron DeSantis had a generally packed agenda last week. There were fresh attacks from his rival Donald Trump to tackle. A presidential campaign announcement to be expected. A pile of bills left over from the recently ended session of the Florida legislature to be assessed.
In the midst of it all, he and his Florida Cabinet colleagues had to hear a land use case that basically boils down to whether putting a convenience store in a rural area violates Martin County’s overall plan. .
Notice that cabinet members spent less than 20 minutes on the Martin County case before overturning an administrative law judge’s decision. For comparison, a typical episode of “Law & Order” lasts more than twice as long.
And that’s the problem. The Cabinet has no more business hearing appeals from local land use cases than Florida would have hosted a mountaineers’ convention.
Notice Martin County’s “rural lifestyle” case is on appeal. Here are some questions to answer.
Not a simple case Martin County Rural Lifestyle Land Use State Hearing Focuses on Compliance and Impact
An unexplained reversal DeSantis and other officials support controversial land use in rural Martin County lifestyle
The way the system is set up, people who want to challenge changes to a local government’s overall plan first take their cases to a state administrative law judge. If either party wishes to appeal the decision, the Florida Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Directors, is the next step.
From there, cases can be appealed to one of the state’s district courts of appeal. Then, presumably, if certain state constitutional issues are at issue, they can be taken up by the Florida Supreme Court.
The second step in this process, the Board of Directors hearing, seems unnecessary and out of place. Cabinet members are part of the executive branch of government, not the judicial branch. So, there is a problem of separation of powers.
Since Cabinet members are not part of the judiciary, they may have little or no legal training or experience in interpreting questions of law.
Of the current Cabinet members, DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody are law graduates, while Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis are not. There is no requirement that the governor hold a law degree, although it is one of the prerequisites for serving as attorney general.
Therefore, at any time, the Board of Directors can hear administrative law appeals with only one member who is in fact a bona fide lawyer.
In the Martin County case, the Board of Directors gave no explanation as to why it was overturning the judge’s decision. There was no discussion of the legal issues that will be at issue if the case advances to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth District of West Palm Beach.
While the matter may seem insignificant to the rest of the state, and likely to Cabinet members as well, it could have a huge impact on how rural Martin County is developed. It was the subject of hours of discussion before the Martin County Local Planning Agency and the Martin County Commission. Before the administrative law judge issued her decision, she conducted a full hearing with expert testimony and tons of documents.
In contrast, the Board of Directors allowed five minutes each for attorneys representing the county and the plaintiff to present their arguments (three minutes for their initial presentations, plus two minutes for rebuttals) as well as three minutes for an attorney representing a developer. with a vested interest in seeing the modification of the overall plan maintained.
Then, without further discussion, Cabinet members dismissed the judge’s decision, as they had done in January when a similar case involving Costco store plans in Stuart was before them.
This process has been in place for many years. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be changed.
There is a relatively simple legislative solution here: just eliminate Board of Directors hearings and have district appeals courts hear challenges to administrative law decisions directly.
Especially since the Legislative Assembly has just approved a law making the losing party responsible for paying the legal costs of both parties in cases of modification of the overall plan, even when the case of the losing party is found to have merit. Such a change would be fairer to everyone so that cases are resolved more quickly.
Judicial appeals must remain within the judicial branch of government. And frankly, Cabinet members should have bigger issues to consider. Unless streamlining government is just a talking point and not an actual goal.
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This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: With new law, why does DeSantis, Cabinet continue to hear land use appeals?