DeSantis signs impact fee restrictions

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed 24 bills into law late Friday, including a measure that limits local impact fees imposed on builders and developers to help pay for infrastructure to handle growth.

The latest group of bills earning DeSantisÂ’ signature from the 2021 Legislative session were announced in an email with accompanying transmittal letters to Secretary of State Laurel Lee, lacking the fanfare of a trio of bills focused on military families and veterans the governor signed earlier in the day during a ceremony at American Legion Palm Valley Post 233 in St. Johns County.

The new laws include the creation of a 10-member task force to study unmarked and abandoned African-American cemeteries (HB 37); an effort to crack down on “swatting” by establishing felony charges for falsely reporting a crime in which a police response results in death or great bodily harm (HB 371); and a requirement that school districts notify parents they can exempt children from lessons on reproductive health or any disease, including HIV/AIDS (HB 545).

The impact fee measure (HB 337) drew opposition from the growth-management organization 1000 Friends of Florida, which on Thursday urged members to call on DeSantis to veto the bill.

The bill, like most of the measures signed Friday, was transmitted from the Legislature to the governorÂ’s desk on Thursday.

The law, which took effect immediately upon DeSantisÂ’ signature, prevents local governments from increasing impact fees more than once every four years and limits the increases to 50 percent. Increases between 25 and 50 percent would have to be spread over four years. Smaller increases would be phased in over two years.

The law includes a provision that retroactively limits impact-fee increases made since Jan. 1, 2021.

The changes will make it “virtually impossible for local governments to require that new development pays its own way,” 1000 Friends of Florida said in an email to supporters on Thursday.

“Existing residents will shoulder even more of the costs associated with new development through raised taxes, declining roads, parks and other public infrastructure, or both,” the email said.

The bill would allow local governments to exceed the impact-fee limits but would require a study showing “the extraordinary circumstances requiring the additional increase.” Also, the local governments would have to hold at least two workshops and approve the increases by at least a two-thirds vote.

During legislative debate about the bill on April 22, Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, pointed to recent increases in impact fees that exceeded 150 percent in Orange County and 80 percent in Hillsborough County.

“This bill is all about predictability, to make sure that people can plan and go through a project and understand exactly what the cost is going to be,” Gruters, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said at the time. “When you have these types of massive increases, it hurts everybody. We hope that local governments can plan accordingly.”

Opponents of the new law countered that the impact fee increases by the two counties were the first hikes in nearly a decade.

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