State Politics

Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t vetoed a single bill so far this year. But will he?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks after the end of the legislative session at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee on March 11, 2018. Flanking Scott are Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and Senate President Joe Negron.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks after the end of the legislative session at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee on March 11, 2018. Flanking Scott are Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, left, and Senate President Joe Negron. AP

With a final stack of 39 bills on his desk from the Florida Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott is quickly running out of veto threats in his final year in office.

The least productive lawmaking session in years has resulted in 156 bills signed so far, including the new $88.7 billion budget, which included $64 million in line item vetoes.

The Republican governor signed two bills Monday that enact requirements for generators at nursing homes and adult living facilities following the deaths of 14 residents at a Hollywood nursing home that lost power after Hurricane Irma.

Scott has not yet vetoed any legislation from the 2018 session.

He has until April 10 to act on the final bills that reached his desk Monday.

He signed 70 bills into law last Friday, including one that had produced several hundred calls for his first veto of this year. That bill, HB 631, dealt with access to Florida’s beaches. It bans cities and counties from adopting ordinances to regulate what’s known as customary use, or public access to the beach above the mean high-water line, after Jan. 1, 2016. Three counties have passed those ordinances.

Under the bill, only a court can determine customary use, which is generally defined as the traditional use of dry beach sand for recreation by the public.

Walton County in the Panhandle, home to some of Florida’s most popular beaches, is one of three counties with customary use ordinances. The two others are St. Johns and Volusia counties.

Some property owners filed suit against Walton County, but the county prevailed in court. The case is now on appeal.

Citing the economic need for a strong tourism industry, local residents, Realtors and others urged Scott to veto the bill, but he signed it.

“Our very livelihood depends on everyone having access to our greatest natural resource,” Destin real estate agent Alice Duncan wrote to Scott. “Please, please veto this. Not everyone can own a beachfront mansion.”

Attached to Duncan’s email to Scott was a sign that said “private beach” and the caption: “The beach is not a gated community. Tell Gov. Scott to protect customary use laws. The coastline belongs to the public.”

Scott’s office reported last week that opponents outnumbered supporters by an 8-1 margin, with 327 calls and messages against the bill and 40 in favor.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who sponsored the Senate version, said she found it “appalling” that a city or county can pass an ordinance jeopardizing private property rights.

“If you’re going to take away somebody’s property, you have to do it through the courts,” Passidomo said. “To me, it’s just appalling that a local government could do this.”

Passidomo said the steady erosion of Florida’s coastline and a lack of local beach renourishment will keep the controversy alive in future years.

“This problem is not going to go away,” she said, “and it’s going to happen up and down the coast.”

Passidomo said a similar proposal in the 2017 session, which did not pass, was referred to informally as the “Huckabee amendment,” after TV pundit and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who owns a beachfront home in Walton County in the Panhandle.

“We’re not talking about privatizing beaches,” the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole, D-Plantation, said when she presented it to the House Judiciary Committee during the session. “We’re talking about private land and protecting the public’s right to use that private land under the customary use doctrine.”

Scott created a stir last year when he vetoed a bill that would have removed the so-called liquor wall that prevents grocery stores and big-box retailers from selling hard liquor.

Earlier, Scott vetoed an intensely lobbied overhaul of Florida alimony laws and a higher speed limit on certain interstate highways in Florida.

Two years ago, Scott vetoed a bill that would have provided new financial incentives for dentists to care for patients in underserved areas. He said the bill duplicated other programs and lacked sufficient safeguards to protect Florida taxpayers.

In his seven years in office, Scott has vetoed 55 bills passed by the Legislature. He vetoed 11 bills last year. The highest number of bills vetoed was 12 in 2012, and the lowest was one in 2014.

Contact Steve Bousquet at Follow @stevebousquet.