(NSF) — A proposal to help shield farmers from “nuisance” lawsuits was approved Thursday by the Florida Senate, as some critics contend it is intended to protect the sugar industry around Lake Okeechobee. A priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, the measure (SB 88) was approved in a 37-1 vote. It would expand Florida’s “Right to Farm” law, which was first approved in 1979 and helps protect farmers from what are known as nuisance lawsuits.
“Farmers work hard every day so the grocery store shelves are full for everyone else,” said Simpson, whose business interests include egg farming. “They don’t have the time or the money to spend months tied up in court because the new subdivision down the road doesn’t like the farming operations that have been in place on that land for generations.”
Bill sponsor Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, called the measure “a bold statement” to recognize the state’s heritage. The proposal, which also would need House approval to become law, would prohibit nuisance lawsuits from being filed by anyone owning property that is not within one-half mile of the alleged violations. It also would limit damages that could be awarded to the market value of any property damaged. The bill also would expand the “Right to Farm” law to include issues related to agritourism and “particle emissions.” It also would require people who file lawsuits to show by “clear and convincing evidence” that farms did not comply with state and federal environmental laws.
In casting the lone vote against the bill, Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who is an attorney, said nuisance cases are already difficult to prove and the measure is essentially “putting property over health. We’re putting property over people’s lives.” Farmer wasn’t sympathetic to people who moved to property next to a nuisance. “But if you’re already there, and operations are increased, or new operations are instituted that have the effect of harming you or your family, I don’t think we should be barring those claims,” Farmer said.
Critics of the proposal have argued in committees that the “particle emissions” listing in the bill is part of an effort to scuttle a federal lawsuit over the health impact of “black snow” created from the burning of sugar cane fields.