Local government attorneys, it’s time to revise your sign codes to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2218, 192 L. Ed. 2d 236 (2015).
In this landmark case, Pastor Reed successfully sued the Town of Gilbert alleging violation of the First Amendment because the town’s code provided for greater restrictions on temporary event directional signs compared to other noncommercial signs like ideological and political signs. The court held that content-based laws, such as laws applying to temporary event directional signs, are presumptively unconstitutional and must meet a strict standard of review. To be held constitutional, they must be justified by a compelling governmental interest and be narrowly tailored to achieve it. A sign law is content-based when:
If the sign law is content neutral, the court explained that the standard of review is intermediate. The law must be justified by a substantial government interest such as legitimate aesthetic and traffic safety objectives.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Alito provided a non-exhaustive list of sign rules that are content neutral:
Based on this decision, local governments should avoid any content-based sign laws such as laws specific to political and real estate sale signs. This brings many challenges for local government attorneys who must revised sign codes. For example, if a municipality allows political signs for an upcoming election in its right-of-way, it must also allow other temporary signs as it cannot discriminate based on content.
Timeframe can also be an issue. Let’s say that temporary signs are allowed for 30 days, what happens to real estate sale signs and political signs which are based on an event? One could draft an ordinance to say that if a temporary sign pertains to an event, it should be removed within five days after the conclusion of the event. However, this would allow a temporary sign to be posted months before the event. This may work well for real estate sale signs, but not so much for other event-based temporary signs. I have studied and reviewed many revised sign codes to see what other cities have done to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, but I have not found one that solves the above-mentioned issue.
As you can see, this decision provides a few guidelines on what content-based signs are, but it also creates practical issues for local government attorneys revising sign codes.
The Florida Legislature enacted laws affecting local governments during the 2016 Session. One of them relates to public records requests to local government contractors. Local government and business law attorneys should ensure their clients follow these new statutory requirements.
Chapter 2016-20, Laws of Florida, amends Section 119.0701, Fla. Stat., by requiring public records requests related to contract for services with a public agency to be made directly to the public agency instead of the contractor. If the public agency does not possess the records, it must immediately notify the contractor of the request. The contractor must then provide the records to the public agency or allow the records to be inspected or copied within a reasonable time. A contractor who fails to provide the requested information within a reasonable time may be subject to penalties under Section 119.10, Fla. Stat.
Pursuant to the new law, a public agency must include a statement in contracts for services informing the contractor of the contact information of the public agency’s record custodian. The statement must also instruct the contractor to contact the record custodian with any questions regarding the contractor’s duty to provide public records. The following language, in at least 14-point boldfaced type, should be included in contracts for services entered into or amended on or after July 1, 2016:
“IF THE CONTRACTOR HAS QUESTIONS REGARDING THE APPLICATION OF CHAPTER 119, FLORIDA STATUTES, TO THE CONTRACTOR’S DUTY TO PROVIDE PUBLIC RECORDS RELATING TO THIS CONTRACT, CONTACT THE CUSTODIAN OF PUBLIC RECORDS AT … (telephone number, e-mail address, and mailing address).”
Contracts for services must also address whether the contractor will retain the public records or transfer them to the public agency after the completion of the contract. If the contractor keeps the public records, it must follow all requirements for retaining such records, including nondisclosure of confidential or exempt records.
Last year, the Florida Legislature created Section 189.069, Fla. Stat., (Chapter No. 2014-22, Laws of Florida), requiring special districts to maintain an official website. Under the provision, the website must include the following information by October 1, 2015:
If you have special district clients, don’t forget to tell them about these new requirements. To help ensure all required content is posted, use the Special District Website Requirement Self Checklist provided by the Special District Accountability Program. And don’t forget to provide the website address of your special district clients to the Program.
It’s that time of the year. The 2015 Florida Legislative Session starts today and will last until May 1. Over 1460 bills have been filed. Only a few will make it to the end of the session and become law. Below are bills of interest to attorneys and legal professionals. Keep an eye on them as they may impact your practice areas if they pass in a few months. For your convenience, I’ll provide a status update at the end of the legislative session.
HB 47 State Minimum Wage
HB 47 increases state minimum wage from $6.15 to $10.10. It provides that an employer may not pay an employee at a rate less than the state minimum wage. It deletes the requirement that only individuals entitled to receive federal minimum wage are eligible to receive state minimum wage. (Identical Bill: SB 114)
CS/SB 102 Digital Assets
Known as the “Florida Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act,” this bill authorizes a personal representative to have access to specified digital assets and electronic communication of a decedent and provides compliance requirements to receive and collect digital assets. It also give a similar authorization to guardians, agents and trustees. (Similar Bill: HB 313)
CS/HB 113 Local Government Construction Preferences
This bill prohibits local ordinances and regulations from restricting competition for award of construction services based upon the location of the vendor’s office or place of business. It requires state colleges, school districts and other political subdivisions to make specified disclosures in competitive solicitation documents. (Similar Bill: SB 778)
SB 126 Social Media Privacy
SB 126 prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring access to a social media account of an employee or prospective employee. It also prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory personnel action for an employee’s refusal to allow access to his social media account. However, it provides that an employer is not prohibited from seeking access to social media accounts used primarily for the employer’s business purposes.
SB 150 Student Loans
This bill would require the Justice Administrative Commission and the Office of the Attorney General to implement a student loan assistance program to assist a career assistant state attorney, assistant public defender, assistant attorney general, or assistant statewide prosecutor in the repayment of eligible student loans. (Similar Bill: HB 45)
SB 462 Family Law
This bill provides that a collaborative law process commences when the parties enter into a collaborative law participation agreement. It prohibits a tribunal from ordering a party to participate in a collaborative law process over the party’s objection. SB 462 provides for confidentiality of communications made during the collaborative law process. (Similar law: HB 503)
HB 611 Residential Properties
HB 611 provides requirements relating to the request for an estoppel certificate by a unit or parcel owner including a 10-day timeframe to deliver the certificate. It also provides that an association waives any claim against a person or entity who would have relied in good faith upon the estoppel certificate if the association failed to deliver the certificate. It revises fee and supplemental fee requirements. (Identical Bill: SB 736)
As you can see I can’t cover all bills that may affect your practice areas. If you want to look and find bills, you can do a word or statute amended search under the Bills tab on the Florida House of Representatives website.
Are you looking for public records and sunshine laws? The Government-In-The-Sunshine Manual, a yearly publication written by the First Amendment Foundation, covers in great details the who, what, when, where and how of open government laws. It also provides for recourses and consequences when a public board or agency fails to apply public records and sunshine laws.
I know it’s only November. The Florida legislative session will not start until March. But if you want to submit a local bill, you have to get it ready now.
Local Bill Procedure
If you are not familiar with the legislative process, you probably wonder what is a local bill. A local bill is a proposed law that only affects a specific geographical area as opposed to a general bill that affects the state in its entirety. Typically, public agencies such as special districts and municipalities request local bills. Before introducing a local bill to the Florida legislature, an agency’s request must be heard by its county legislative delegation. Agencies must submit the following documents to their delegation before the scheduled hearing:
Once heard and approved by a majority vote of the delegation, the requesting agencies must publish a Notice of Legislation in a local newspaper at least 30 days prior to the introduction of the bill to the Florida legislature. They must also find a bill sponsor.
Local Bill Deadlines
Don’t forget to follow all your county legislative delegation deadlines. The delegations don’t make any exceptions! In Palm Beach County, the deadlines are as follows:
For more information about local bills, visit or call your county legislative delegation office.
* Picture by Ebyabe (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Have you heard about the Sunshine Law? No, it doesn’t refer to Florida’s beautiful weather, but to openness in government. Open government is necessary to ensure public trust, promote accountability and strengthen democracy. Open government is achieved by giving citizens access to government meetings and by making available for inspection public records. These rights are established in Article I, Section 24 of the Florida Constitution, and Chapters 286 and 119 of the Florida Statutes.
Government In The Sunshine Law
Florida’s Sunshine Law provides a basic right of access to most government proceedings of public boards, commissions and other governing bodies at both the state and local levels. It applies to elected and appointed boards, and to any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss matters that will come before the board for action. The Sunshine Law lists three basic requirements:
Public Records Law
The Public Records Law provides for a right of access to state and local government records or records of any private entity acting on their behalf. In the absence of a statutory exemption, the right to access applies to all material made or received by an agency in connection with its official business. Over the years, the definition of public records has evolved to include not just written documents, but also photographs, films, sound recordings and records stored in computers.
If you would like more information on these topics, the Government-In-The-Sunshine Manual, a yearly publication written by the First Amendment Foundation, covers in great details the who, what, when, where and how of open government laws. It also provides for recourses and consequences when a public board or agency fails to apply public records and sunshine laws.
Have you ever heard of Robert’s Rules of Order? Henry M. Robert created a set of rules on parliamentary law in 1876. The Robert’s Rules of Order is used by clubs, organizations and local governments for conducting business at meetings and public gatherings. These rules are important because they allow members to be heard and make decisions.
Public meetings follow an agenda or an order of business. The agenda typically looks like this:
But how do members get their say during the meeting? A member who wishes to speak up on a matter must make a motion. A motion is a proposal the assembly take a stand or action on. First, the member presents his motion by saying, “Mr. Chairperson, my name is … I move to… .” For the motion to be considered, it must be seconded by another member who says, “I second the motion.” The chairman will then state the motion, “It is moved and seconded that…” and debate follows. The member who made the motion is allowed to speak first followed by other speakers. Finally, a vote on the motion takes place. Most motions require a majority vote to be adopted. The voting method depends on the situation or the bylaws of the organization. It can be by voice, by show of hands, by roll call, by ballot or by general consent (members show consent by their silence).
These are just a few Rules of Order. If you would like to have more information about Robert's Rules of Order, you may want to read the book or its summary. Also, if you would like Your Paralegal Help Desk to create your board meeting agenda or draft your minutes, email or call us.
As part of my work with a local government law firm, I have accumulated over the years a list of online resources for municipalities, counties and special districts. Below are local government legal resources you need to know:
Municipal & County Codes
Municode includes most major American municipalities and counties ordinances and rules. American Legal Publishing Corporation also provides for select municipal codes. If you can’t find what you are looking for on these websites, local governments often include their codes on their websites.
Ethics play an important role in local government and vary by state. Several counties and cities have also adopted codes of ethics. Most states have an ethics commission such as Oregon and Florida. In Florida, the Commission on Ethics website includes a lot of resources for local government such as opinions, orders, rules, forms and guides for public officers and employees.
Local Government Formation
Not only can you find proposed bills that may affect local government on the Florida House of Representatives website, but also guidelines for bill drafting, local bill policies, procedures and forms, and a local government formation manual. In California, you can find information on special district formation on the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions.
You can find board meeting agendas and minutes on most local government websites. County minutes can also be found on the county clerk website. For example, Palm Beach County minutes can be viewed on the Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller website.
Local governments often publish public notices in newspapers, from a board meeting notice to a request for proposals. You can view public notices published throughout the State of Florida on Florida Public Notices website. The Ohio Newspaper Association also has a public notices website.
There are a lot more resources specific to each municipality, county and special district that can be found online. If you are looking for a local government resource or document I haven’t mentioned here, send me an email. I will be happy to help you find it.
I have been working with local governments for many years now. As part of my work, I have followed Florida’s legislative sessions and tracked bills. To do so, I had to know the legislative process. This is one of the first things we learn when going to paralegal or law school. However, it is often quickly forgotten. So here is a recap on how an idea becomes a law in Florida.
Florida’s legislative session starts on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March and last 60 days. The first step in creating a law is to have your idea sponsored by a Senate or House representative. The representative then contacts Bill Drafting Services to request a bill to be drafted. The representative may give specific and detailed instructions on how to draft the bill or may just provide a general idea. The assigned bill drafter works with him until final draft of the bill is approved by the representative. When approved, the idea receives a bill number (odd number for House and even number for Senate) and is filed. For this example, we will use a House bill.
Before being voted on by the House, the bill is read 3 times. The 1st reading is by publication of the bill number, its sponsor and a short description of the bill in the House Journal. The Speaker will also refer the bill to one or more committees or subcommittees in the House. The committees and subcommittees will study the effect of the bill if enacted. They can amend, accept or reject the bill.
Once amended or accepted, the bill is sent to the House. The 2nd reading takes place when a bill is introduced and read on the Special Order Calendar where it is explained, questions are answered and amendments are considered. The bill is then taken up on 3rd reading on a subsequent legislative day. This is the final reading of the bill before being voted on by the House. If the bill does not receive a favorable vote, it “dies” on the floor.
After the bill is passed by the House, it is sent to the Senate for voting. The Senate takes the bill through a similar process and returns it to the House. If the bill passes both houses, it is enrolled and sent to the Governor for his approval. If the Legislature is still in session, the Governor has 7 days to sign the bill. If the session ended, the Governor has 15 days to sign it. The Governor may take one of the following 3 steps: sign the bill, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it. If the Governor vetoes the bill, the Legislature may override his veto by a 2/3 vote during the next session. This summarizes the legislative process in Florida.
If you would like to have more details on this topic, you can visit the Florida House of Representatives’ website or the Senate’s website.
In a future blog post, we will review some of the recently enacted bills that may impact Florida attorneys.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Your Paralegal Help Desk's blogger is not an attorney and cannot give legal advice. If you have a legal issue, you should immediately seek the advice of a licensed attorney in your state.