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A veggie tale: Personal garden bill clears first hurdle

A bill that would prevent local governments from banning vegetable gardens on residential properties is beginning to take root in the Legislature.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously backed the measure (SB 82) on Tuesday.

For most of the lawmakers on the panel, it wasn’t their first go around with the bill. A similar bill cleared the Senate nearly unanimously during the 2018 Legislative Session but failed to catch traction in the House.

The push is sponsored by influential Appropriations chair Rob Bradley, who told the panel the bill is a personal one; it’s not backed by any outside interests, just something he feels “strongly” about.

The Fleming Island Republican sees the current ability of local governments to enforce gardening restrictions as an affront to personal liberty and private property rights.

“I think when one thinks about the idea of a code-enforcement officer going onto a property that you own and requiring you — under threat of fine — to tear up a garden that you have prepared to grow your own food, that to me is not consistent with the fundamental rights that we have in our Constitution,” Bradley told the panel.

The issue dates back to a legal dispute between a couple and a local government in South Florida. In 2014, Hermine Ricketts and Laurence Carroll sued the Village of Miami Shores, challenging a local ordinance that barred the couple from planting food gardens in their front yard.

Two lower courts would side with the local government. And the Supreme Court last year declined to take up the case.

Bradley told Florida Politics after the bill cleared the panel that he first introduced the legislation — which then had the auspicious bill number of “1776” — near the filing deadline of the 2018 Session.

He expects the “freedom lovers” in the House to move the measure during the 2019 Session, which begins March 5.

Republican state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff of Deland has filed accompanying legislation (HB 145) across chambers. The two bills currently are identical.

Last year Bradley briefly attempted to tack on an amendment that would also pre-empt local governments ability to ban plastic utensils. But that won’t happen again this year, he said.

The Florida League of Cities opposes the bill as written. The group’s legislative counsel David Cruz said local governments only pass and enforce such restrictions to “affect the nature and the characteristics of what their communities look like.”

Cruz asked for Bradley to consider more of a “middle ground” or “compromise.” Instead of preventing local governments from restricting any and all vegetable growth, Cruz suggested to Bradley adding language that allows height restrictions on plants and limiting gardens for personal consumption.

Opposition from the League, which typically rejects pre-emptive measures like Bradley’s, signals that the issue falls along battle lines drawn out by those seeking to protect home rule and those who like to kick power up to the state.

But Bradley said he’s not an “anti-home-rule Senator.” And maintained that the issue is one of private property rights.

“I acknowledge that world isn’t going to spin off off its axis if this doesn’t pass,” Bradley said after the bill cleared. “But that all being said, this isn’t a joke … We need to be serious about private property rights.”

Written By

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at dmcauliffe500@gmail.com.

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