Senate gives initial approval to bill protecting ‘agritourism’ from nuisance lawsuits

sugar farmers
Senate President Wilton Simpson, an egg farmer, backs the proposal.

The Senate could soon pass legislation protecting farming operations from nuisance lawsuits, a quiet priority in that chamber.

The Senate gave its preliminary approval to Sen. Jason Brodeur‘s bill (SB 88) to moderate lawsuits against farmers by building off Florida’s Right to Farm Act.

The Sanford Republican’s bill would restrict the types of civil lawsuits based on farming activities, require plaintiffs to prove noncompliance with state or federal requirements and limit who may file nuisance lawsuits against farmers.

“These laws do not grant absolute immunity but generally provide protections from those that move to the nuisance,” Brodeur told senators. “People that move next door to the nuisance shouldn’t then be able to turn around and sue a farmer who’s been in existence for 100 years just because they moved toward them.”

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 provide 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 bill includes an expansive definition of nuisance, “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 told a Senate panel last week.

Senators also OK’d an amendment he added Friday adding fees to cost and expense a plaintiff owes a farm if they lose the suit.

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 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 the 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 (HB 1601) last week.

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.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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