The big beach bust-up is another example of good intentions and government action paving the path to perdition. Although this is an election year, and some might like to make political hay out of it, the supposed effort to “privatize” large portions of Florida’s beaches is another bipartisan disaster.
A measure sponsored by state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, and state Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole, a Democrat from Plantation who is not seeking another term in the House, makes it harder for local governments to keep owners of private beach property from barring people trying to get to public beach property. Under the new law, known as HB 631, which Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for the U.S. Senate, signed but wishes he hadn’t, local governments must now sue the owners of private beach property who are restricting public access to public beaches.
Under the Florida constitution, the state holds all “wet beach” property — the area between the mean low tide line and the mean high tide line — in trust for the public’s use. The “dry beach” land behind the mean high tide land can be privately owned and often is. Also germane to the issue is the Florida Supreme Court’s 1974 Daytona Beach v. Tona-Rama decision, which held that local government could cite the legal doctrine of “customary” or “ancient” use to keep private beach land open to the public to maintain access to public beach property. Under HB 631, cities and counties must ask a judge to make the customary-use decision on a case-by-case basis.
There has been a fair amount of unwarranted hysteria caused by misinterpretation of HB 631. Still, the state should have left the flawed status quo in place.