Senate President Wilton Simpson is backing legislation filed Monday that would expand protections for farmers and farming activities, including tourist attractions, under the Florida’s Right to Farm Act.
Sen. Jason Brodeur filed the bill (SB 88), an attempt to moderate lawsuits against farms. To do that, the Sanford Republican’s bill would restrict the types of civil lawsuits based on farming activities, require plaintiffs prove noncompliance with state or federal requirements and limit who may file nuisance lawsuits against farmers.
Simpson, a Trilby Republican and lifelong egg farmer, said in a statement that the Legislature should update the Right to Farm Act to protect farm work, including “complimentary agritourism.”
“We frequently update our laws to recognize changes in other industries, and I want to make sure our hardworking Florida farmers aren’t left behind,” he said.
Senate leadership immediately slated the bill for its first of three committee hearings, a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 1. St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes chairs that committee.
The bill adds “agritourism” — including attractions like corn mazes, rural bed and breakfasts and wine tours — as protected farming activities.
For negligence, trespassing, personal injury and strict liability lawsuits, as well as nuisance suits, plaintiffs must prove clear and convincing evidence the farming activity does not comply with state and federal environmental laws, regulations, or best management practices.
Nuisance suits would also be restricted to plaintiffs located within a half mile of the activity or structure that is targeted in the suit. Plaintiffs that sue over activities deemed legal could be asked to pay the defendant farm’s attorney fees.
“As more and more people leave densely populated areas of the country and relocate to rural areas of our state, residential development encroaches on our rural areas,” Brodeur said. “Friction between these competing land uses can lead to litigation that threatens the survival of legacy farming communities.”
The Legislature originally passed the Right to Farm Act in 1979.
“While we are always happy to welcome more Floridians, we also have to preserve existing farms that contribute to our economy and food supply,” Brodeur said. “This legislation strikes the right balance by modernizing Florida’s existing Right to Farm Act.”
If passed and approved, the bill would go into effect July 1.