Gov DeSantis vetoes bill that requires DOH to issue health warnings at local beaches

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From algal blooms to red tide, we all know there are some bad things lurking in Florida waters.

“Unfortunately, there are any number of beaches around the state of Florida that on any given day have high rates of pollution and pollution that could make people sick. Often what happens is, there’s fecal contamination,” UCF Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett said.

Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed the ‘Safe Waterways Act’ which is legislation that would have required health warnings about bacterial contamination in or around the ocean and waterways.

The bill required the Florida Department of Health to issue health advisories if water quality failed to meet the agency’s standards and required closing polluted beaches “if it is deemed necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

The measure also required municipalities and counties to notify the state health department of unsafe water quality within 24 hours and required counties to post signs warning of unsafe waters.

Matt DePaolis, the Director of the Environmental Policy Team for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, called the governor’s latest decision unfortunate.

“The Safe Waterways Act empowered the Department of Health or would have empowered the Department of Health to post concerns that they had when testing was coming back for certain things that would be in the water that were harmful to public safety, human health, whether that’s algae blooms, excessive fecal content, things of that nature,” DePaolis said.

He continued, “It’s very important when we have events like this that are potentially impacting beachgoers or people who are using our coastal environments for them to have the knowledge that they need to make a decision about what they’re going to do that day, where they’re going to go, and how they’re going to spend their time.”

In the letter explaining his decision for the veto, DeSantis said, “Health Departments like DOH can serve a valuable function, but they should not be vested with the power to supersede local jurisdictions regarding the operation of beaches. I have made water quality and protecting Florida’s natural resources a priority, and my administration will continue to do so, but this grant of power to DOH over Florida beaches is ill-advised.”

With the Governor boasting water quality as one of his priorities, Jewett called the governor’s decision a headscratcher.

“He’s talked about water quality being a high priority, but at least on the face of it, this veto seems to go in the opposite direction because the fact is, unfortunately, there are any number of beaches around the state of Florida that on any given day, have high rates of pollution and pollution that could make people sick,” Jewett said.

He continued, “It seems to go against what he says he’s for, which is clean water and keeping people healthy, and you would think that if the water contamination and pollution on a particular day is really bad, that you wouldn’t want people swimming, and that you would want to close down that beach, and you would want to do it in a fast and efficient way.”

Jewett said vetoing this bill goes against a number of bills that the governor has supported, which centralize things with the state government and take away some of the authority of local governments.

He said until the bill’s sponsors re-introduce the legislation, which they plan to do next year, it’s on local jurisdictions to take the initiative to make sure their residents are aware of any potential threats to their safety.

“Even in the absence of state intervention, the local governments still have the authority to step in there and make sure that people do not swim in contaminated water,” Jewett said. “Until this can be revisited next year, it’ll be up to the local authorities to make sure that the water is clean and not contaminated, and people are not getting sick, and that may mean sometimes closing those beaches.”

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