Forget sunshine, protect our beaches

Katarina Harrison, Opinions Editor

After the Florida Congress passed of the Sunshine Protection Act, which would put Florida permanently on daylight saving time, all eyes are on Governor Rick Scott to see whether he will sign it into law. This one-sided attention however, is drawing public attention away from a much more serious, controversial, and important pieces of legislation that Rick Scott has already made law.

Recently, Scott signed the Possession of Real Property bill, fundamentally changing public access to beaches across the state. Prior to the passage of this law, Florida residents and tourists had access to any beach they could prove people had been going to for recreation for an extended length of time. The new law would restrict this access from the entire sandy beachfront, to only the sand up to the high tide line. Beachgoers on the sand above the high tide line would be considered trespassers and could be punished as such.

Since 60% of Florida beaches are privately owned, this new law has the potential to drastically restrict beach access to the millions of Floridians and tourists who visit beaches annually. Government and public focus are both aimed at the sunshine act–a frivolous move meant to protect the state image as the Sunshine State. But while that act will not truly change the amount of sunshine tourists have access to, the Possession of Real Property bill truly will change the access tourists have to beaches. In a state with an economy so heavily dependent on tourism, this law should cause not only concern, but outrage.

If the effect on tourists is not enough, the effect on locals should hit close to home. While tourists may be granted easy access to the beaches around their hotel, Floridians will not have such easy access unless they own beach properties. Spring break trips to the beach, or even casual weekend trips there, will be made far more difficult or pricey.

In the short term, this law may not have such a drastic effect. It is unlikely that all beach property owners will immediately take their beach away from the public, or charge beachgoers with trespassing. This law, however, sets a dangerous precedent, one that could lead to unrestrained ownership of Florida beaches, restricting not only the freedom of the locals but the economy of the state as a whole.

In addition to the effects on people, it is important to consider the potential environmental impacts of the law. Currently, with beach land protected by the government, land owners are restricted from doing anything drastic to the land, and therefore unable to severely harm the environment. With increased ownership, beach owners have more freedom than ever to harm the beach in a variety of ways.

Even at its most effective, the sunshine act will do little more than remove the annoyance of changing the clocks every year. Compare this to the potentially disastrous effects of the Possession of Real Property bill, and it will become clear which of the two bills should be causing public concern.  No one cares how many hours of sunlight there are if there is no beach to enjoy them on.