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A sensitive plant in a garden grew, And the young winds fed it with silver dew, And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light, and closed them beneath the kisses of night.

~Percy Bysshe Shelley
"The Sensitive Plant," 1820
Written by Marjorie Holt   
Wednesday, February 17 2010

Posted on Sat, Feb. 13, 2010
Local perspectives



Nine counties and three groups representing local governments filed a court challenge this week of a 2009 law that tipped legal leverage toward developers who fight paying impact fees. Good for the plaintiffs.

The law was one of several the Legislature adopted last year under the guise of easing growth management rules to jump-start the economy. Many of the changes -- deservedly -- have ended up in court.

In 2009, lawmakers ignored the escalating foreclosure crisis, slowed construction and glut of vacant housing stock and claimed easing growth restrictions would spur development. A year later our economy is no better, and unemployed construction workers are filing jobless claims by the thousands.



Now cities are saddled with the onerous new growth rules. In the case of impact fees, levied on new growth to pay for increased demands on services like roads and sewer systems, state law has historically put the burden on developers to prove that local governments miscalculated the price of new infrastructure or applied fees unfairly.

The new law shifted the burden of proof to local governments. It also raised the standard of proof and added limitations on how courts can review a challenged fee.

This will increase impact fee challenges and, thus, cities' litigation costs. It's essentially an unfunded mandate. The state Constitution bans the Legislature from imposing new duties on local governments without providing money to pay for them.

Local governments claim the law violates the state Constitution's separation of powers provision by overriding court rulings validating previous legal standards for impact fees. Any law that repeals a court rule must pass by a two-thirds vote of both houses. The Senate passed the bill one vote shy of that.

The Legislature has steadily chipped away at local governments' revenue sources. Cities and counties owe it to their residents to challenge lawmakers' tinkering with rules that weren't broken in the first place.



© 2010 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

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