A invoice within the Florida legislature that may strengthen a state property rights legislation – some critics say already scares native governments from defending the surroundings – has been drafted by officers at giant growth firm that donated to its Senate sponsor.

Senator Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, stated he labored with a lobbyist for Barron Collier and Collier Enterprises Administration corporations to draft the proposal. An e mail reveals {that a} lobbyist forwarded a draft to an government at Barron Collier Corporations, a department of an actual property and funding empire that dates again to the namesake of Collier County.

“They wrote it down,” Rodrigues stated. “I approached the lobbyist and informed him I needed to do one thing about this space.”

The invoice would change the wording of Florida’s Bert Harris Act, which fits past the US Structure to guard landowners from governments that “excessively overwhelm” their capacity to learn from their land. The idea is rooted in the concept the state can’t take property from a citizen with out offering honest compensation.

If the invoice passes, it is going to make clear that the legislation applies to property discovered underground, together with mineral rights. A Collier household firm manages the rights to the oil reserves situated underneath the Massive Cypress Nationwide Protect, the place the rigs function to the frustration of environmentalists. The Colliers are making a living from leases with corporations that extract the oil, together with an operator who lately utilized to construct new wells on the reserve.

Representatives for the Collier Corporations didn’t return a number of calls in search of remark. Lobbyist Andy Palmer of Metz, Husband & Daughton PA didn’t return a cellphone name, e mail or textual content.

Rodrigues stated he seen the invoice as clarifying however not extending the safety of property rights. Mineral rights, he stated, would have been coated by the legislation from the beginning, however he would favor that “the legislature make its intention clear.”

Opponents, nonetheless, are specializing in a unique provision which they imagine might open up extra prospects for aggrieved landowners to sue their native governments.

The Bert Harris Act has sometimes been invoked when a authorities choice particularly impacts particular person property, stated Jane West, director of coverage and planning for the expansion administration advocacy group 1000 Associates of Florida. Which means somebody might problem in the event that they had been denied a allow or if a neighborhood ordinance utilized on to operations on their land. As a part of the evaluations, West stated, folks might carry challenges as quickly as a coverage is handed, earlier than it even actually impacts their property. This might result in a rise in pricey lawsuits for counties and cities, West stated.

“The specter of litigation creates a chilling impact” that forestalls officers from approving insurance policies aimed toward stopping growth, she stated. “There’s a distinction between property rights and having the ability to do no matter you need with that piece of land.”

Jaclyn Lopez, director of the Heart for Organic Variety in Florida, recalled how the legislation was invoked years in the past by a Manatee County phosphate mining firm after officers opposed a deliberate enlargement. The corporate sued for a whole lot of thousands and thousands of {dollars}, and the county subsequently reversed its place.

“Massive landowners and companies use Bert Harris as a sword,” Lopez stated, earlier than adjusting his phrases: “A sword makes one look too noble. It is a pomegranate.

She famous that the Colliers are political donors who supported Rodrigues’ election. Marketing campaign fundraising data present Collier’s companies gave him $ 7,000 between 2019 and 2020 and $ 5,000 to his political committee on March 1.

“It would not matter who requested who first,” Lopez stated. “That he spoke to them, particularly them on mineral rights, isn’t any coincidence. The Heart for Organic Variety opposed the drilling at Massive Cypress.

A pair of wooden storks, left, and a big group of white ibis roost and feed in a wetland off Loop Highway in Massive Cypress Nationwide Protect in 2008. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Rodrigues disputed that the cash had one thing to do with asking the Collier lobbyist for assist. “My final marketing campaign value $ 1.5 million,” he stated. Anybody who believes just a few thousand {dollars} might get the higher of him, he stated, is unsuitable.

“They do not perceive the method both,” Rodrigues stated. In a textual content message, he later wrote: “I do not perceive how altering when a dispute will be introduced will end in extra disputes being filed.”

One in every of Rodrigues’ objectives, he stated, is to stop native efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing earlier than a provision is handed in an space containing oil or fuel, the place he believes a landowner might sue Bert Harris that may value taxes to pay.

“It protects property rights, it protects landowners, it protects taxpayers,” he stated.

The Home Companion Invoice is led by Consultant Jenna Individuals-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers. She didn’t reply to emails in search of remark, nor to voicemail messages from her non-public legislation agency and Capitol Hill workplace.

The invoice was not introduced to a Senate committee, however the Home model was handed by the civil justice and property rights subcommittee final week. Democrats opposed the concept, involved a few employees evaluation that reported it “expands the attain of the Bert Harris Act,” regardless of claims by Individuals-Mulicka.

In the identical evaluation, a employees member wrote: “The invoice … could have an undetermined detrimental fiscal impression on native governments.”

The ramifications would prolong past the surroundings, stated David Cruz, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, who opposes the invoice. Different orders, comparable to an effort to limit short-term leases like Airbnbs, Cruz stated, is also topic to challenges underneath the revised legislation.

“Any laws referring to land use could be underestimated by native governments,” he stated.

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