Plastic bag ban preemption conflict ongoing in Florida

Preemption occurs when law at a higher level of government is used to overrule authority at a lower level of government. A recent sequence of events in Florida provides an example of the conflict that can emerge between state and local governments over the idea of preemption.
In August 2019, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal ruled that sections of Florida law that prohibit local governments from regulating plastic bags and other packaging were constitutional. That decision reversed a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court that upheld the city of Coral Gables’ ban on the retail use of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, which had been approved in February 2016. The case was originally brought by the Florida Retail Federation.
On August 27, 2019, the Coral Gables City Commission voted to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.
Other local governments across Florida repealed or delayed their bans after Coral Gables lost its case, including Gainesville, Miami Beach, Palm Beach, Surfside, and Alachua County.
Advocates of plastic bag regulations say that reusable bags save retailers money and reduce the number of bags without recyclable materials that enter municipal recycling programs. Opponents say that comprehensive solid-waste disposal laws already cover the issues addressed by local bans in some states, plastic bags can be reused around the home rather than thrown away, and bans add an unnecessary financial burden for low-income families that would be required to buy reusable bags.
In 2019, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee passed legislation preempting local plastic bag bans.

Voters in Memphis approve sales tax for public safety officer benefits

Voters in Memphis, Tennessee, voted to approve an initiative that increased the city’s sales tax by an additional 0.5% (from 2.25% to 2.75%) in order to fund health benefits and pensions to the levels provided in 2014 and 2016, respectively, for fire and police public safety officers. The measure also earmarked additional revenue generated by the increase for roads and pre-kindergarten education. Unofficial election night results showed voters approving the measure 52.5% to 47.5%, with 100% of precincts reporting.
In Tennessee, local option sales taxes apply only to the first $1,600 of a single purchase. The 0.5% additional tax rate proposed by this referendum would, therefore, result in a maximum of an $8 increase in sales tax on the purchase of a single item. If the measure is approved, the city council will have to give final approval of the tax increase for the 2020 city budget. Before this election, the city’s sales tax rate was last increased in 1984 from 1.5% to 2.25%.
The Memphis Police Association and the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, the sponsors of the initiative, estimated the tax increase would provide $52 million in revenue annually. The groups estimated that $34 million of that would be required to bring health benefits and pensions to the level designated by the petition. In 2019, half of the revenue from the city’s 2.25% sales tax went into the general fund and amounted to about $113 million.
This measure was put on the ballot through a successful initiative petition campaign sponsored by the Memphis Police Association and the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, which submitted about 140,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot in January. A total of 38,450 valid signatures were required to put the measure on the ballot.

Jim Strickland wins re-election as mayor of Memphis

Incumbent Jim Strickland defeated former Mayor Willie Herenton, Shelby County Commissioner Tamara Sawyer, and nine other candidates to win election to a second four-year term as mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, October 3. As of 9:00 p.m. Central Time, Strickland had received 63% of the vote to Herenton’s 29% and Sawyer’s 6% with 52% of precincts reporting.
Strickland was first elected in 2015, defeating incumbent A.C. Wharton with 41.3% of the vote. He said he was running to continue his first term policies, which he said included expanding the city’s police force and school system while maintaining a balanced budget and avoiding tax increases.
Herenton, who was first elected mayor in 1991 and won re-election to four subsequent terms before resigning in 2009, said that his plan to combat poverty had fallen off track after he left office. He said that he would prioritize reducing poverty using his experience from his previous term as mayor.
Sawyer was first elected to the county commission in 2018. She said that in recent years city leaders had emphasized the needs of businesses over residents and had not addressed Memphis’ long-term challenges. Sawyer pointed to her city council campaign as well as her experience with a movement calling for the removal of statues associated with the Confederacy as evidence that she could make policy.
Although the election was officially nonpartisan, Strickland, Herenton, and Sawyer are all members of the Democratic Party.

Special district spotlight: Miami-Dade County, Florida

The South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District is a special district in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Special districts are a form of municipal government created to fulfill a specific, stated purpose within a certain geographic area and are empowered to tax residents in order to fund operational expenditures. Common examples of special districts include airport, conservation, fire control, flood control, hospital, library, sanitation, transportation, and utility districts.
The South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District was established by the Florida Legislature with a mission to administer programs for soil conservation and for water quality and quantity improvement. The District is responsible for overseeing water and environmental conservation projects in Miami-Dade County.
The board has five members who supervise the district’s work and revenue sources. Each board member represents a geographical district within the county, distinguished by five “Group” seats. The office is nonpartisan and members are elected to a four-year term. As of October 2019, current officeholder details are as follows:
• Lovey Clayton is the Group 1 member. Clayton assumed office in 2019 for a term ending on January 3, 2023.
• Thomas Davenport is the Group 2 member. Davenport assumed office in 2017 for a term ending on January 5, 2021.
• Jeremy Weinstock is the Group 3 member. Weinstock assumed office in 2019 for a term ending January 3, 2023.
• S. Cooper McMillan is the Group 4 member. McMillan assumed office in 2017 for a term ending January 5, 2021.
• The Group 5 seat is currently vacant.
The board’s Group 2, 4, and 5 seats are scheduled for election on November 3, 2020. The election for Group 5 will cover an unexpired term ending in 2023. The candidate filing period for the election begins on June 8, 2020, and ends at noon on June 12, 2020.

Recall effort targeting Arizona mayor reaches the ballot

In Payson, Arizona, a recall effort targeting Mayor Tom Morrissey is moving forward after enough petition signatures in support of the recall were verified over the week of September 16. Petitioners were required to submit 770 valid signatures in order to put the recall on the ballot; the town government had not set a date for the recall election as of September 27.
The recall effort has been organized by a group of residents under the name Unite Payson. They initiated the recall in response to the firing of Town Manager LaRon Garrett on August 8. The group is also gathering signatures to recall three council members—Suzy Tubbs-Avakian, Janell Sterner and Jim Ferris—for the same reason. Additionally, Councilman Steve Smith is being targeted for recall due to allegations that he “has created animosity and discord at every Payson council meeting in the attempt to disrupt new motions and progress.” There are seven members on the Payson Town Council, including the mayor.
Morrissey responded to the recall effort after the signatures were certified. He said, “I have no intention of resigning. The recall group consists of a small group of folks who lost the election and are bitter, and some folks who lost political control of the town and want it back. I am working for and will continue to work for all the residents of this town.”
Recall organizers have 120 days after petitions are filed to gather signatures. The signature requirement for recalls against each council member is 1,653 valid signatures per member.
In 2018, Ballotpedia covered a total of 206 recall efforts against 299 elected officials. Of the 123 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 77 were recalled for a rate of 62.6 percent. That was higher than the 56.9 percent rate and 56.3 percent rate for 2017 and 2016 recalls, respectively.

At-large results certified in Nashville council runoff

Four out of five at-large seats on the Nashville Metro Council were on the ballot in a nonpartisan runoff election held on September 12. Eight of the 15 general election candidates had advanced to the runoff; after the vote totals were certified, the four seats were ultimately won by three incumbents and one challenger.
Incumbents Burkley Allen, Sharon Hurt, and Steve Glover were re-elected to new four-year terms. Hurt received 15.3%, Allen received 13.2%, and Glover received 13.1% of the vote. Challenger Zulfat Suara was also elected to the council with 13.0% of the vote. The four runoff candidates who lost were incumbent Fabian Bedne (11.3%) and challengers Sheri Weiner (12.6%), Howard Jones (11.5%), and Gary Moore (9.6%). The fifth at-large seat was previously won in the August general election by incumbent Bob Mendes.
Races for city council seats in Districts 2, 7, 13, 16, 21, 23, 26, and 30 also advanced to a runoff on September 12. The Nashville Metro Council has 35 district seats and five at-large seats. It also includes Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, who won re-election in the August general election with 80.5% of the vote.
Nashville is the largest city in Tennessee and the 25th-largest city in the U.S. by population.

School board elections happening amidst uncertainty in Houston, Texas

Four out of nine seats on the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board of education are up for general election on November 5, 2019. Heading into the election, the HISD school board faces the possibility of being replaced by a state-appointed board of managers. If the state appoints a board of managers, elected school board members would not have any power until the elected board was reinstated, although they could participate as non-voting representatives.
The state’s commissioner of education, Mike Morath, could decide to replace the HISD school board for either of two reasons: either as a result of a Texas Education Agency (TEA) investigation into the board’s governance or as a result of poor academic performance ratings at a high school in the district.
TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt recommended in August 2019 that the state appoint a board of managers for the district. He cited the elected board’s “inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.” HISD lawyers filed a lawsuit against the TEA on August 16 which claimed that school board members’ rights were violated and that allegations were not fully investigated. The lawsuit also said that a state-appointed board would violate the Civil Rights Act, since a majority of voters in the district are people of color.
According to preliminary ratings for the 2018-2019 school year, one HISD high school received a failing grade for the seventh year in a row. Texas House Bill 1842 requires that the commissioner of education either close a school that receives more than five consecutive failing grades or replace the district’s board of education. HISD received a waiver from state ratings for the 2017-2018 school year due to Hurricane Harvey. School board members voted to appeal the failing grade on September 5, which could delay a potential state takeover of the board.
As of the 2018-2019 school year, HISD was the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest school district in the United States, serving 209,772 students in 280 schools with a budget of $2.04 billion.
The last day to register to vote in this election is October 7. Early voting will run October 21 through November 1. The general election will be held November 5.

Three open-seat Boston City Council races in November

Primaries took place for four at-large seats and four district seats on the 13-seat Boston City Council on September 24, 2019, in Massachusetts. The council’s other five seats are also on the ballot this year, but they did not hold primaries because two or fewer candidates filed per seat. The primary winners advanced to the general election on November 5.
  • At-large (four seats): All four at-large incumbents—Michael Flaherty, Althea Garrison, Annissa Essaibi George, and Michelle Wu—and challengers David Halbert, Julia Mejia, Erin Murphy, and Alejandra St. Guillen advanced from the 15-candidate primary. Eight candidates advanced from the primary because there are four at-large seats up for election, and two candidates advance per seat.
  • District 5: Ricardo Arroyo and Maria Esdale Farrell advanced from the eight-candidate primary. Incumbent Tim McCarthy did not run for re-election.
  • District 7: Incumbent Kim Janey and challenger Roy Owens defeated Valerie Hope Rust to advance from the primary.
  • District 8: Kenzie Bok and Jennifer Nassour advanced from the five-candidate primary. Incumbent Josh Zakim did not run for re-election.
  • District 9: Liz Breadon and Craig Cashman advanced from the seven-candidate primary. Incumbent Mark Ciommo did not run for re-election.
The five city council races not on the primary ballot were for Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. District 4 is scheduled to hold a contested general election between incumbent Andrea Campbell and challenger Jeff Durham in November. The incumbents in the other four seats—Lydia Edwards in District 1, Edward Flynn in District 2, Frank Baker in District 3, and Matt O’Malley in District 6—are all running unopposed for re-election.
Boston is the largest city in Massachusetts and the 24th-largest city in the U.S. by population.

Georgia school board recall effort makes it on to December ballot

A recall election seeking to remove Doris Black from her position on the Jackson-Madison County School System school board in Tennessee is scheduled for December 10, 2019. Black currently serves as the representative for District 4, Position 1. For the recall election to be successful, at least 66% of voters must vote in favor of the recall.
Black was targeted for recall along with District 2 representative Kevin Alexander due to allegations that they were too resistant to Superintendent Eric Jones and his plan for the district, according to district resident Robert Curlin. Alexander said that neither he nor Black had done anything unethical. Black said that she felt attacked by the recall effort against her.
Recall supporters had to collect approximately 1,151 signatures from residents of the school board’s District 4 to get Black’s recall on the ballot. That signature total was equal to 66% of the votes that Black received in the previous election. The recall effort against Alexander is still underway; petition signatures have not been submitted yet.
Residents of the district did not have the ability to recall board members legally until May 10, 2019, when House Bill 0983 was signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R).
In 2018, Ballotpedia covered a total of 206 recall efforts against 299 elected officials. Of the 123 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 77 were recalled for a rate of 62.6 percent. That was higher than the 56.9 percent rate and 56.3 percent rate for 2017 and 2016 recalls, respectively.

Recall begins against three Louisiana school board members

In Louisiana, an effort to recall three of the eight members of the Vermilion Parish School District Board of Education was approved for circulation on September 9, 2019.
The targeted officeholders are District A member David Dupius, board president and District C member Laura LeBeouf, and District D member Dale Stelly. Vice president and District F member Kibbie Pillette was also considered for recall, but no petition had been filed as of September 24, 2019.
According to Lynn Vincent, who chairs the recall committee, the school board’s decision to place district superintendent Jerome Puyau on paid administrative leave for a second time is the cause of the recall effort. Vincent told KLFY News 10 that the superintendent’s suspension was a waste of taxpayer money and politically motivated. The recall petition alleges that the board members “are more concerned about political and/or personal agendas than the concerns of their own constituents and the children of Vermilion Parish.”
Puyau was placed on administrative leave in July 2019 after he was accused of failing to put items on agendas as requested by board members, hiring personnel who did not meet board-specified qualifications, and using board funds to pay private attorneys’ fees without the board’s knowledge or approval.
All three of the recall targets provided responses to the petition to KLFY News 10:
  • David Dupius said, “I work with my constituents. I speak with my constituents. I stand by my constituents. That’s all I have to say about it.”
  • Laura LeBeouf said, “Basically, I think this recall committee is a tactic and aim at board members when you have five board members that are addressing issues to come at us. I see it as a political tactic.”
  • Dale Stelly said, “Everyone has their views and their rights to do what they see fit. In my base, precinct, and those people there by a large margin, basically elected me, and told me when I went house to house that they wanted to elect me to make a change.”
Recall supporters have until March 9, 2020—180 days—to collect the signatures of one-third of the total registered voters across the three school board districts represented by the targeted board members.
In 2018, Ballotpedia covered a total of 206 recall efforts against 299 elected officials. Of the 123 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 77 were recalled for a rate of 62.6 percent. That was higher than the 56.9 percent rate and 56.3 percent rate for 2017 and 2016 recalls, respectively.