Bills to repeal HB 631 customary use provisions die in state legislature

NO WALTON COUNTY customary use ordinance has been in place since July 1, 2018, when Florida Statutes Section 163.035 went into effect, negating the county’s then-existing ordinance affirming recreational customary use of the beach. Bills filed in the 2020 legislative session to repeal Section 163.035 are now dead. (Photo by Dotty Nist)

By DOTTY NIST

Florida House and Senate bills aimed at repealing customary use provisions put in place in 2018 as a result of House Bill (HB) 631 have died in the Florida Legislature.

By the mid-March end of the regular 2020 legislative session, neither of the two repeal bills, HB 6063 and Senate Bill (SB) 1680, had received a hearing. The bills were listed on the House and Senate websites as having been withdrawn.

However the sponsors for the bills commented that they had not withdrawn the bills, explaining that the measures were listed as withdrawn due to the bills not being heard by the end of the session.

HB 631’s customary use provisions had taken effect on July 1, 2018, as Section 163.035, Florida Statutes, negating Walton County’s customary use beach ordinance and setting up a court process for the use of local governments in order to affirm a public right of customary recreational use of the beach on privately-owned property.

HB 6063 and SB 1680, identical bills filed in the 2020 legislative session, had called for simple repeal of Section 163.035.

House and Senate procedures require bills to initially undergo review by committees related to bill topic. Only after passing successfully out of committees assigned to review a bill does a measure move to the full legislative body for a vote. Both bills had been assigned to a number of committees and, as of the end of session, had not been voted on in any of those committees.

State Representative Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach), sponsor of HB 6063, the House repeal bill, commented that he had known from the outset that the bill did not have a good chance of succeeding in the 2020 session, due to many of the same legislators who had voted for HB 631 still being in the legislature.

Jenne said the “hardest thing to do” is to convince legislators that they were wrong in the way they voted.

Due to the fact that HB 6063 “never got a hearing,” Jenne said, “we are stuck with this law (Section 163.035) for another year.”

He lamented the impact of Section 163.035 on the beaches statewide, including on people’s ability to use the beach for recreation. Beachgoers have continued to face of the widespread practice of beachfront property owners claiming a right to exclude the public from the beach on their property.

Jenne acknowledged that it often takes a couple of years or more to get legislation moving. He pledged to continue with repeal efforts, saying that he would welcome the assistance of legislators representing the Panhandle—and would also encourage and welcome a Panhandle representative sponsoring a repeal bill in the future.

Jenne recognized the efforts and hard work of Panhandle groups and citizens advocating for customary use of the beach, calling these advocates “amazing,” and “instrumental” to the repeal effort.

Senator Lori Berman (D-Delray Beach), sponsor of SB 1680, commented, “I voted against the 2018 legislation passed by both Chambers and signed by then-Governor Scott because I feared it was in fact a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Fencing and restricting access to beaches is occurring statewide and both our courts and law enforcement do not know nor have the resources to handle this. Removing people on the beach for recreating is a solution in search of a problem. Unfortunately, Republican leadership refused to hear the bill in either chamber this session. Hopefully the 2021 session brings with it new members with fresher perspectives to take a look at this harmful legislation and consider repealing it.”

Meanwhile, Walton County’s customary use court declaration, filed in line with the procedures set by HB 631 for affirmation of customary recreational use of the beach, remains in Walton County Circuit Court, with two days of hearings on motions to dismiss and motions to sever in the case envisioned for mid to late May.

The next regular legislative session is expected to begin in early March 2021.