The temperature is rising and it’s not just the hot Florida sun. A new law, that I sponsored during the 2018 Legislative Session and that went into effect on July 1, 2018, aims to introduce a balanced process for resolving the legal issue of whether customary use exists on privately owned beachfront property in Florida. Much to my disappointment, this law has been misunderstood by both proponents and opponents alike, causing temperatures to rise and disputes to ensue.
The law, simply put, was intended to protect private property rights from local government political pressures to adopt ordinances outside of a legal review of evidence relating to customary use and to protect government from literally hundreds of individual lawsuits challenging whether those customary use ordinances were legal. Importantly, the law preserves local governments’ ability to accommodate for customary use, meaning beachgoers may still have the ability to use the beaches as they did before.
Yet, some have viewed this as a restriction on their right to access the beach, and have deliberately trespassed on private, beachfront property and incited owners to themselves act in ways which leave many scratching their heads.
Let me be clear about what the law does and was intended to do. The legislation says that the decision on whether or not a government can invoke customary use on someone’s private property goes to a neutral third-party, which is the court system. Until the law was passed, a government entity made up of a handful of people, like local county commissioners, could unilaterally decide to declare a right of use over private property for public use. That is the same as a taking and was inevitably going to result in years of costly litigation, likely to not end well for local governments.
Moreover, there is a misconception that after a private beach has been re-nourished using public funds that it will remain private and won’t be open to the public for use and enjoyment. This argument is nothing more than a red herring. The fact is, once the beach undergoes re-nourishment it becomes public and beachgoers are welcome to use it as such.
As the sponsor of this legislation, I will say I have watched some of the news reports of conflict and confusion over this law. I encourage property owners and beachgoers alike to work together and understand that this bill is not about making beaches private or disrupting your day in the sand. Again, this bill only adds a vital step affording due process, which is a foundational element of the U.S. Constitution.
By working together and acknowledging this bill for what it is – a much-needed layer of due process to protect both public and private property rights – we can dial back the false narrative that is leading to this wrongly placed conflict and turmoil. Both private property rights and our access to beaches can be preserved and exist cordially together under this new law.
State Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole is a Democrat from Plantation who is not seeking re-election to her District 98 seat.