The gov­er­nor is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der to over­ride an ac­cess law he signed.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY STEVE BOUS­QUET Times/Herald Tal­la­has­see Bureau

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that blocks state agen­cies from en­forc­ing leg­is­la­tion that he signed in March. The mea­sure could have lim­ited public ac­cess to Florida’s beaches. “I’m com­mit­ted to keep­ing our beaches open to the public,” Scott said.

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE — Amid a grow­ing public furor in an elec­tion year, Gov. Rick Scott is us­ing his ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers to over­ride a beach ac­cess law he signed in March.

Scott is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der Thurs­day that blocks state agen­cies un­der his con­trol from tak­ing ac­tions that could limit public ac­cess to Florida’s beaches, a defin­ing as­pect of the state’s im­age as a tourist-friendly des­ti­na­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the leg­is­la­tion has now cre­ated con­sid­er­able confusion and some have even in­ter­preted it as re­strict­ing beach ac­cess,” Scott said in a state­ment. “I’m com­mit­ted to keep­ing our beaches open to the public and this ex­ec­u­tive or­der makes this clear.”

The new law re­quires cities and coun­ties to get court ap­proval to en­force the doc­trine of his­tor­i­cal public ac­cess to dry sand on pri­vate­ly­owned beaches, a prin­ci­ple known as cus­tom­ary use. To do that, a lo­cal govern­ment would be re­quired to sue pri­vate landown­ers.

Crit­ics said Scott’s or­der con­tra­dicts his de­ci­sion to sign HB 631 in the 2018 ses­sion of the Leg­is­la­ture. The bill, which had wide bi­par­ti­san sup­port, was an at­tempt to ease ten­sions be­tween pri­vate property rights and public ac­cess to the sand.

“He’s backpedal­ing,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Da­nia Beach, who rep­re­sents a coastal district in Broward County and voted against the bill. “He re­al­izes that he signed a bill that he prob­a­bly shouldn’t have.”

Jenne ques­tioned whether Scott’s staff did suf­fi­cient home­work that would have an­tic­i­pated a public out­cry over the new law.

On the white sandy beaches of the Florida Pan­han­dle, which beckon tourists from through­out the South­east, uni­formed se­cu­rity guards are on pa­trol this sum­mer and some landown­ers have posted no tres­pass­ing signs.

The con­tro­versy has spread to other coastal com­mu­ni­ties, as well.

The new law took ef­fect July 1, a tra­di­tional date that marks the start of a new fis­cal year but which also marks the un­of­fi­cial start of the sum­mer tourist sea­son.

Ten­sions es­ca­lated in re­cent days when an elected prose­cu­tor re­versed course and an­nounced that he would pros­e­cute cases of crim­i­nal tres­pass­ing brought against Wal­ton County beach­go­ers.

“Any person tres­pass­ing on pri­vate property above the high wa­ter line may be sub­ject to ar­rest,” State At­tor­ney Bill Ed­dins, ac­cord­ing to the North­west Florida Daily News .He added that the new law’s pro­vi­sions “are manda­tory and must be fol­lowed.”

Un­der­scor­ing the grow­ing confusion, Ed­dins’ stance places him at odds with Wal­ton County Sher­iff Mike Ad­kin­son. Scott’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der also ap­peared to side with the sher­iff and chal­lenge the prose­cu­tor’s stand.

“I hereby urge all state at­tor­neys through­out the state of Florida to take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tions to en­sure that the abil­ity of the public to ac­cess Florida’s public beaches in ac­cor­dance with long­stand­ing Florida law is pre­served and is not in­fringed,” Scott’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der said.

The House spon­sor of the bill, Rep. Katie Ed­wards-Walpole, D-Plan­ta­tion, said her goal was to find a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem that is wors­en­ing due to in­creased con­struc­tion of sin­gle-fam­ily homes on beach­fronts.

“Ten years ago, this wasn’t an is­sue,” Ed­wards-Walpole said. “I see this be­com­ing an in­creas­ing prob­lem for coastal coun­ties.”

Sen. Dar­ryl Rou­son, D-St. Peters­burg, an­nounced Fri­day that he will file a bill in the 2019 ses­sion to re­peal the law Scott signed.

“Re­strict­ing beach ac­cess im­pedes upon the free­doms we en­joy as ci­ti­zens and will ham­per Florida’s at­trac­tive­ness as a va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tion,” Rou­son said in a state­ment.

Scott, a Re­pub­li­can, is chal­leng­ing three-term U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son, a Demo­crat, in a race that could tip the par­ti­san bal­ance of power in the Se­nate for years to come.


An­gela Tain­ton and her daugh­ter Zoey Tain­ton, 2, hud­dle up in their beach shel­ter on Bel­leair Beach Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

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