Florida Is The Freest State In America: Report

The U.S. is one of the freest countries in the world. Here’s how Florida compares to rest of the states.

By Don Johnson, Patch National Staff 


Florida has been ranked the freest state in America, according to a new report from a libertarian think tank. The right-leaning Cato Institute published its “Freedom in the 50 States” report this month. The study is based on how each state’s policies promote fiscal, regulatory and personal freedom.

The researchers collected data on more than 230 state and local public policies that impact individual freedom. Florida was crowned the freest state in America while New Hampshire and West Virginia have seen the most improvement in expanding personal liberties. The Sunshine State also ranked No. 1 in 2014.

Florida and New Hampshire significantly outpaced the other top five states, the authors noted.

“Florida’s rise since 2009 has been nothing short of stunning,” the study said. “While most states have improved on freedom in that time if federalized policies are excluded, Florida’s post-2010 improvement has been the third-greatest in the United States (after Wisconsin and Alaska).”

Florida’s best rankings came in the Fiscal, Economic and Cable categories and our worst categories were Occupational, Incarceration and Miscellaneous. The cable and telecom category includes telecommunications deregulation and cable franchising. The miscellaneous category includes variables for regulations governing hospitals, auto insurance and homeowners’ insurance.

Here’s how Florida ranked in each category:

Fiscal: No. 1
Regulatory: No. 22
Personal: No. 11
Economic: No. 1
Lawsuit: No. 34
Land: No. 19
Marriage: No. 16
Education: No. 2
Occupational: No. 46
Victimless: No. 8
Health insurance: No. 30 (tie)
Labor: No. 12
Alcohol: No. 15
Asset Forfeiture: No. 10
Gambling: No. 24
Tobacco: No. 20
Guns: No. 39
Cannabis: No. 28
Cable: No. 1
Incarceration: No. 39
Travel: No. 19
Miscellaneous: No. 41
Campaign finance: No. 21

Here’s what the authors had to say: “Lacking an individual income tax and featuring a hot climate, Florida has long enjoyed substantial migration of well-off retirees. But as we’ve noted in the past, the state attracts more than seniors, as others vote with their feet for good weather and the increased opportunity afforded by Florida’s freer society. Florida does especially well on economic freedom, especially on fiscal policy. Indeed, it is our top state on both. Regulatory policy is improved but mediocre in comparison to the fiscal side.”

“After falling relative to other states for a decade, Florida has improved its personal freedom ranking over the past two years while enjoying an absolute improvement over the last six years. It is now well above average. Part of this bump was because of the Supreme Court’s nationalization of same-sex marriage. Before that decision, Florida did not recognize any kind of same-sex partnership and it banned private contracts amounting to marriage with a super-DOMA. Florida also reformed its civil asset forfeiture regimes, including requiring proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” for forfeitures. On the downside, the state’s crime-adjusted incarceration rate has fallen a bit from its high but is still a lot worse than average (although criminal justice reform efforts promise help on that front). Drug arrests are also high despite declining lately, but arrests for other victimless crimes have fallen substantially. Florida is one of the top states for educational freedom, although homeschool regulations remain substantial. The cannabis regime is largely unreformed despite recent liberalization of medical marijuana policy (which we recommended in the fourth edition), while alcohol is lightly regulated despite beer and wine taxes being a bit high. Gun rights are mediocre and became more restrictive in 2018, as the state has waiting periods for handguns, local dealer licensing, and virtually no open carry. It does have a “stand your ground” law and protects the right to use sound suppressors. Tobacco freedom is middling. Automated license plate reader data use and retention have been partially reformed.”

The authors wrote that measuring freedom is important because people value it. The U.S. has made great strides when it comes to respecting an individual’s rights regardless of race, sex, age or sexual preference, but some people are facing increasing threats to their interests, the Cato Institute said.

The report said groups seeing their personal liberties slide include smokers, builders, affordable housing buyers, aspiring professionals who want to ply a trade without paying “onerous examination and education costs,” and less-skilled workers who’ve been “priced out of the market by minimum wage laws.”

Here are the top 10 freest states, according to the Cato Institute report:

  1. Florida
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Indiana
  4. Colorado
  5. Nevada
  6. North Dakota
  7. Tennessee
  8. South Dakota
  9. Arizona
  10. Kansas

States that have always performed well in the index — North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, and Tennessee — once again found themselves in the top 10.

New York is the least free state, as it has been every year of the index since 2000. Hawaii has fallen far enough to put itself well under California, the authors wrote. New Jersey and Vermont rounded out the bottom five.

“New York has been the least free state in the country for a long time,” the study said. “Economic freedom is the most significant weakness, but the state has not kept up with the rest of the country on personal freedom either.”

Patch national staffer Dan Hampton contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Shutterstock


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Florida Is The Freest State In America: Report
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Florida Is The Freest State In America: Report
The U.S. is one of the freest countries in the world. Here's how Florida compares to rest of the states.
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