Push by Florida lawmakers to block bill giving ‘legal rights’ to nature

Reporter: Taylor Petras
Published: Updated:
FILE: Water being released from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River on October 29, 2018. (Credit: WINK News/FILE)
FILE: Water being released from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River on October 29, 2018. (Credit: WINK News/FILE)

There have been several efforts to give legal rights to nature in Southwest Florida. But now, some lawmakers are trying to block the movement before it appears on your ballot.

The calm Caloosahatchee River is one of the 15 Florida waterways that people are fighting to give legal rights. Karl Deigerts is among these people.

“If an inanimate corporation can have rights,” Deigert said, “then why cannot a living ecosystem full of life not have individual inalienable rights?”

Now, Deigert’s effort to bring the Caloosahatchee Bill of Rights to Lee County is facing a big challenge.

“We have people out there in Tallahassee working to keep nutrients flowing into this river,” Deigert said, “to prevent us from creating these protective laws.”

Two Florida lawmakers want to stop any effort to give nature legal “rights.”

“I take that as a compliment,” Chuck O’Neal said, “because apparently this is so dangerous the thought of actually giving people the right to clean water.”

“Why would any representative preempt things that protect us and our health and our environment?” Deigert said.

Sen. Ben Albritton, who filled one of the bills, said to WINK News it handcuffs local governments and invites litigation. His full statement:

Handcuffs Local Governments – These proposals would restrict a local government’s ability to pass ordinances, adopt regulations, and issue permits that may implicate these “new” rights. This could include development approvals, zoning, land use controls, or infrastructure projects. This is not in the best interest of local communities.

Invites Litigation – These proposals will likely result in a significant increase in litigation by creating a private cause of action whereby any person can sue another person, business, or government, if they “feel” their “rights” are being violated. There is no requirement for actual injury or any direct connection to bring a lawsuit, and the burden of proof is on the one being sued.

Risk to Business – These proposals would have a detrimental effect on Florida’s economy in general.

In addition, I don’t believe that elevating nature to the status of a human being is good for society. Our Constitution is meant to protect the rights of people, with no mention of “rights of nature”. To elevate any natural feature to the level of human beings simply diminishes the value of human life.

Unnecessary – These proposals are entirely unnecessary as Floridians already have ample opportunity under existing law to challenge activities or government actions they feel could or would result in harm to the environment.

This legislation that I have filed addressing these “rights of nature” proposals will preserve the ability of local governments to operate without threat of overwhelming litigation, preserve the rights of Florida landowners (from large to homeowners) to rely on well-established permitting and environmental regulatory programs. These proposals will throw Florida’s current local government regulatory and permitting structure into turmoil, thus having a terribly negative impact on Florida’s economy.

“It’s not working,” Deigert said. “We wouldn’t be having this conversation today if our current system worked.”

Instead of trying to pass a nature bill of rights countywide, organizers in Lee County are focusing on getting it done municipality by municipality.

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