The Phoenix Flyer

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson calls for special legislative session to fix public beach access mess

By: - July 27, 2018 4:02 pm
deputies on the beach
Sit here: Deputies draw a line in the sand in Walton County in the video seen ’round the world

U.S. Sen Bill Nelson on Friday called for a special session of the Florida Legislature to repeal the law that is causing controversy and legal problems over the public’s access to the state’s beaches.

“This isn’t what Florida is about,” Nelson said in a Friday morning press conference on the Panhandle’s Santa Rosa Beach.  “Beachgoers should be able to enjoy the sun and the sand without being harassed and without worrying whether they’ll be arrested.”

Nelson – who is running against Gov. Rick Scott for U.S. Senate – said he’s heard reports from visitors who say “Florida’s just not as friendly anymore.”

A law that went into effect July 1 has emboldened some private property owners who have put up “No trespassing” signs on beach front and called law enforcement to have people removed from sand in front of their condominiums and homes. Counties throughout the state have long abided by the concept of “customary use” of beachfront, meaning folks have been using the beaches for decades and should continue that public use. A video of an attorney in Walton County (ground zero for the battle) being asked by law enforcement officers to leave the beach or move onto the wet sand went viral on the Internet, garnering worldwide attention.

Waterfront property owners in Walton County hired an army of lobbyists and got the law passed by the state Legislature this year. Gov. Scott signed it. After the problems surfaced, Scott issued an executive order which “urges counties to protect public beach access.”

“Governor Scott took executive action to protect beach access and has been clear that he is committed to keeping our beaches open to public,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said.

But the executive order doesn’t nullify the state law, says Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson, who also wants the Legislature to fix the problems.

“Rick Scott created this problem,” Nelson charged, swiping at his opponent in the U.S. Senate race “and he could call the Legislature back to Tallahassee to fix it.”

Scott spokeswoman Schenone called Nelson’s press conference a “political stunt” and said Nelson should be in Washington “doing his job.”

Said Nelson: “Our tourism-driven economy is at risk and there’s only one way to make it right: a special session of the state Legislature to fix the law.”


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Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman

Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.