Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Thursday requesting Florida counties to ensure beach access for the public, modifying a law he signed four months ago.
Executive Order 18-202 is in direct opposition to HB631, a bill that Scott signed into law in March and went into effect on July 1. The old law made it harder for local governments to prevent private citizens from blocking off their land from beachgoers. If a city or town wanted to allow public access to these lands, it would have to sue the private owner.
The previous law had left many citizens confused as to who had access to certain areas of the beach. It also made it easier for people to block off portions of the beach behind their properties, even though the public had been using it for decades. While the bill left many confused as to whether the government was enabling more privatization of beaches, representatives of Gov. Scott said this was not the case.
“This law does not ‘ban’ or privatize in any beach in Florida,” John Tupps, Gov. Scott’s Communications Director, said at the time. “If a local government wants to expand the public beach area, this bill simply outlines the legal process to accomplish that.”
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Scott’s executive order gives local governments broad authority to make sure citizens are able to access any part of a beach. This would include the private land that the public has always used, according to a legal principle called “customary use,” said the Tampa Bay Times.
“Last session, HB631 was passed with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans,” Scott said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the legislation has now created considerable confusion and some have even interpreted it as restricting beach access.”
The order directs the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish a website where people can log complaints over lack of beach access. The agency must review the complaints and report back to the Legislature.
The DEP will also serve as a liaison between the public and local governments about how the new law should be implemented.
Reactions on Twitter were largely negative: