All entries for April 2014

County Ordinance Requiring Gas Stations to Truthfully Advertise Prices Meets State, Federal Challenges

A recent rule passed in Palm Beach County demonstrates the interplay of politics and the law across the federal, state, and local levels.

On April 22, 2014, a local ordinance requiring gas stations to start posting maximum prices on their signs was passed in Palm Beach County.  Its purpose is to try and curtail station owners  from only posting their lower “cash-only” prices in order to lure consumers to their station. Gas stations have a year-long grace period to comply with the ordinance, after which they can be fined $250 for a first offense and $500 for repeat offenses.

The rule follows similar ordinances passed in both Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The timing of the ordinance presents some insight into how local and state government interacts.  The vote on the rule proposal was originally set for March 22, 2014, however, the commission delayed the vote until July 22, 2014 upon the request of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.  Part of the Association’s request stemmed from its belief that there were pending proposals on the federal level that would accomplish the same goals as the ordinance.

Under the Supremacy Clause, a law passed by the federal government on a given subject-matter is controlling upon both state and local governments. County officials reportedly could not find any federal measures specifically directed towards truth in advertising for gas prices.

On April 15, 2014, the commission decided to move the vote to the next Tuesday, April 22nd.The commission wanted to vote on the rule as soon as possible due to fears of preemption by the state government. Preemption occurs when the state government passes a law on a subject matter; from that point onwards, local governments cannot pass a law on the same subject matter because the state government has already dictated how the subject matter will be legislated.

Members of the commission specifically mentioned House Bill 947 and its counterpart Senate Bill 1070 as possible legislation that would prevent counties from imposing rules on gas station advertising. The proposed legislation could be deemed broad enough to prevent local governments from passing rules related to gas station advertising.

Opponents of the rule felt that a statewide solution was more efficient than a county-by-county approach. The commission disagreed, specifically stating that if the state decided to pass a law that effectively trumps the county’s ordinance, the county can always repeal the rule.

Furthermore, the commission felt that the unknown qualities of the proposed state legislation could work to the county’s advantage, as local rules are sometimes “grandfathered in” and remain unaffected by new state legislation.

The Palm Beach County Commission ordinance illustrates the importance of timing when passing local laws: pass an ordinance too soon, and the rule may be trumped by superior legislation, forcing a repeal of the rule. Pass too late, and the state or federal government can preempt the subject matter and deprive local government of the ability to speak on the issue as it relates to a specific county.

Land use ordinances, regulations, and administrative law can sometimes change quickly and can often have a substantial impact on businesses and individuals.

The attorneys of Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen, & Ginsburg closely monitor—and, in some cases are involved in – the process of creating new local city and county ordinances. Attorneys also closely  monitor state laws affecting land use in Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties and surrounding areas so that they can advise clients of these changes and how it might affect them.

Click here to contact an Icard Merrill attorney to help you find out about land use and administrative law ordinances that might affect you or your business.