Lawsuit Against State Utility Rule Continues as Plaintiffs Shift Focus to City of Gainesville

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A lawsuit challenging a new state law that restructured the municipal utility in the Gainesville area is moving forward, despite the dismissal of Gov. Ron DeSantis as a defendant last month. The group Gainesville Residents United and six individual plaintiffs are now seeking to include the city of Gainesville as a defendant in the case.

The law, which was passed during the previous legislative session, established the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority as a replacement for the longstanding Gainesville Regional Utilities agency. Under the new law, the governor has the power to appoint the board members of the authority, effectively giving the state control over the utility.

The lawsuit, filed in July, raises concerns about potential infringements on freedom of speech. It argues that the new law could prevent citizens from addressing social, political, environmental, and ideological issues related to the operation of the utility system. The plaintiffs are seeking a broad injunction that would bind not only the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority but also other divisions and departments of the city.

The case initially named DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Secretary of State Cord Byrd, and the city of Gainesville as defendants. However, both Moody and Byrd were dropped from the case in October, leaving only the city as a defendant. U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor dismissed DeSantis as a defendant.

Despite the dismissal of DeSantis, the plaintiffs argue that the city is still a proper defendant because the new utility authority is considered a “unit” of the city. They expect to prevail on the merits of their claim and are pursuing a lawsuit in hopes of securing a favorable outcome.

The outcome of this lawsuit could have significant implications for the governance and control of municipal utilities in Florida. Plaintiffs are seeking to challenge the reach of state authority over local utilities and protect the rights of citizens to voice their concerns and seek redress in matters related to utility operations.

It remains to be seen how the court will rule in this case and whether the city of Gainesville will ultimately be held responsible for the changes made by the new state law. However, the lawsuit signals a continued effort by citizens and advocacy groups to protect their rights and maintain local control over municipal utilities.

In summary, the lawsuit challenging the new state law that transformed the municipal utility in Gainesville is ongoing. Plaintiffs are advocating for the inclusion of the city as a defendant and have raised concerns about potential infringements on freedom of speech. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications for the governance of municipal utilities in Florida.