Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed into law an expansion of legal protections for farmers as he held a private ceremony with lawmakers and growers at the Capitol.
The measure expands the state’s “Right to Farm” law, which was initially approved in 1979 and helps shield farmers from what are known as nuisance lawsuits.
The expansion will prohibit nuisance lawsuits being filed by people who do not own property within one-half mile of the alleged violations. It also will limit damages that could be awarded to the market value of any property damaged.
The bill, which will take effect July 1, also expands the Right to Farm law to include issues related to agritourism and “particle emissions.”
In addition, it would require people who file lawsuits to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that farms did not comply with state and federal environmental laws.
Critics maintained the bill (SB 88) pushed by Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, is intended to limit lawsuits over the potential health impacts of burning sugar cane around Lake Okeechobee.
Simpson, who has rejected allegations that the bill was pushed by the sugar industry, said the bill would help preserve Florida farms. “We frequently update our laws to recognize changes in other industries, and today we are coming together to make it clear that our hard-working Florida farmers will not be left behind,” Simpson, whose business interests include an egg farm, said in a statement from the governor’s office.
Critics have contended the phrase “particle emissions” in the bill is part of an effort to scuttle a federal lawsuit over the health impact of “black snow” created by the burning of sugar cane fields.
Backers of the measure said farmers face increased pressures from residential and commercial development as Florida attracts more people. Joining DeSantis at the signing were farmers from Hastings, Quincy, Lake County and Jackson County, along with mayors from Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay.
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