The Florida Senate could soon vote on legislation protecting farming operations against nuisance lawsuits, a quiet priority in that chamber.
By a 14-2 vote, the Senate Rules Committee gave Sen. Jason Brodeur‘s bill (SB 88) its final approval before it hits the Senate floor.
To moderate lawsuits against farmers, 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.
“People that move next door to the nuisance, they shouldn’t be allowed to turn around and sue the poor farmer that’s been there for years,” Brodeur told the committee.
The bill adds “agritourism” — such as 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.
The committee accepted Brodeur’s amendment, expanding the term nuisance into a catchall defined as a “reasonable use and enjoyment of land.” That includes noise, smoke, odors, dust, fumes, particle emissions or vibration.
“A nuisance is a nuisance is a nuisance, and so no matter how creative you get with the verb you use, it’s still basically a nuisance claim,” Brodeur said.
Senators on both sides of the aisle raised concerns over the possibility of mining operations being roped into the bill’s protections. Brodeur assured he would clarify the bill’s language with an amendment on the Senate floor.
Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer said he would prefer a legal system that offered more flexibility. The Fort Lauderdale lawyer cast one of the two no votes, along with Sen. Perry Thurston, another Fort Lauderdale Democrat.
Ida V. Eskamani with Florida Rising thanked Brodeur’s staff for meeting with her team. But she still had concerns about how the increased legal protections would disproportionately affect poor Floridians that live near farms.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, a lifelong egg farmer, supports the effort. In a statement after the committee advanced the bill, the Trilby Republican said the Senate is committed to preserving Florida’s agriculture. That industry leapfrogged tourism and hospitality as the state’s biggest industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our state has experienced tremendous growth since Florida’s Right to Farm Act was originally passed in 1979, and it’s time to update this important law so existing farm work and complimentary agritourism activities are protected,” Simpson said.
Pace Republican Rep. Jayer Williamson filed the House companion version (HB 1601) on Tuesday.
Simpson is also backing Brodeur’s bill making fixes to the state’s child welfare rules (SB 80).
“I think it always helps when you have a presiding officer who’s taking an interest in some of the things that you’re doing, and certainly he’s been really great about supporting those of us who really look out for vulnerable populations, those of us who look out for business, those of us who are all in the same space.”