Attorneys for the city of Gainesville and Florida officials argued their cases before Leon County Judge Angela Dempsey on Friday morning, and a decision could come within the next week.
The official ruling could alter how or if House Bill 1645 is enacted in the coming two weeks. The bill replaced the Gainesville City Commission as the controlling body of Gainesville Regional Utilities, placing a governor-appointed authority in its place.
In the lawsuit, Gainesville argues across nine different counts that HB 1645 violates the Florida Constitution and state process. A list of those arguments can be found below, and many have to do with how the city and GRU issues bonds and violations of state process.
For example, Gainesville says the state violated provisions to hold a referendum and failed in its duty to notify citizens. The first count also accuses HB 1645 of being too vague.
“HB 1645 is so unconstitutionally vague as to place the City and its officials at risk for violating the statute and other areas of Florida law, that are contradictory to this special law, without an intent to do so,” the lawsuit reads.
Mayor Harvey Ward has spoken on this point at meetings, stating he doesn’t know how the bill—and relationship between the general government and GRU—would work in practice.
During media availability on Friday, Ward said he tried to clarify the bill before it passed. He said he wrote to state Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, the sponsor of the bill, to modify the legislation and eliminate what he saw as warning flags.
“I do worry about [HB 1645],” Ward said. “It’s a problem. We were left with something that there were not complete answers to, so we had to sue.”
The lawsuit lists Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd as defendants.
However, in their replies to the lawsuit, all three officials take the position that they are not the correct office to sue and that the case should be dismissed.
“The City’s undisputed facts that are material to determining standing and who may be the proper party establish that there is no standing against the Secretary (or perhaps anyone yet) and he is not otherwise a proper party to this action,” the response from Byrd reads.
All three also argue the city is suing these officials as a cover for a “general challenge to the existence of the [HB 1645].”
Ward said Dempsey has indicated that she will try to make a decision by Friday, Sept. 29. He said the best action for the city would be for Dempsey to declare the law void, allowing the city to continue its control of GRU.
He said operations could continue as normal while the city works with citizens on a referendum to see how they want the utility managed. But he noted that the judge has many options between allowing the law to move forward as it stands or repealing it.