Beach access, finacial literacy, Bethune statue ... there are a lot of repeats on the docket
As the Florida Legislature gets down to business in its first week, you may notice not just familiar faces, but familiar legislation.
There are a lot of repeats on the docket, including some that will look locally familiar:
In last year’s episode, Rep. Katie Edwards (now Katie Edwards-Walpole, congratulations!), D-Plantation, introduced an innocuous-looking bill that on closer examination seemed to limit public access to the dry-sand part of most Florida beaches. Including Volusia County’s.
Volusia County residents can walk and drive on dry sand because we have a broad right of customary access here. Last year’s bill could have limited the right of customary access in a way local officials found worrisome. Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert called the legislation "troubling.”
Well, Rep. Edwards-Walpole has filed a new bill limiting the right of customary access to Florida beaches. It says determination of such a right can only be done by a court “on a parcel-by-parcel basis and by clear and convincing evidence.”
Could this make us a private beach unless litigated block by block? I’m no lawyer, but the plain-language implications to public beach access look worrisome. A broad right of customary beach use is in our county charter and is the basis for claiming any right to manage, or even be on most of the beach.
I hope our representatives are asking the right questions. Last year, this issue seemed to take everyone by surprise.
In last year’s episode, a bill that would have awarded $1.9 million to a sunbather run over by a Volusia County Beach patrol truck in 2011, passed a key Senate committee only to be turned down by the House Civil Justice and Claims Committee.
A Senate special master in October again found in favor of the woman, Erin Joynt, and bills in the House and Senate would pay damages.
At the time, the accident provoked public criticism over the county’s use of large trucks around beachgoers and reignited the endless debate about beach driving.
Although clearly at fault, Volusia County has been fighting this lawsuit and the legislative action needed to compensate Joynt with surprising tenacity. Passage is overdue this time around.
In last year’s episode, Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, missed the session due to cancer treatment, but her bill requiring Florida high school students to take a financial literacy course neverthelss passed the Senate. The House, however, did not take it up.
She's been introducing bills along this line since 2014 and is not about to stop now. This time, the Senate fast-tracked the bill and passed it, 34-0, Thursday.
I appreciate the need to better prepare kids for life in a world that can be unforgiving about financial missteps. (Don’t load up on student debt, kids! Watch out for credit cards! Don’t go into journalism!) But as somebody who sweated through the state-mandated high school course, “Americanism Versus Communism,” I worry any time the Legislature has another new idea for courses every student needs to take. Elective classes are too hard to shoehorn into a schedule crammed with must-take courses.
In last year’s episode, the Senate passed a resolution to bring a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University, into the Capitol’s Statuary Hall collection as one of the pair of sculptures representing the state. It would replace the statue of E. Kirby Smith, a Confederate general few have heard of and who never lived in Florida as an adult.
Similar legislation faltered in the House after an Orlando-area legislator complained about the process for picking someone to honor and preferred a statue of someone else who never lived in Florida — Walt Disney, natch.
Maybe this time around it will pass. It got past the Rule Committee on Thursday and is on its way to the Senate floor.
No black people now are represented in the Capitol's Statuary Hall Collection, so once again Bethune would take on her accustomed work of breaking down racial barriers.