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Governor's new executive order blocks controversial beach law

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WWSB) - Governor Scott is telling beach-goers and land-owners alike to ignore a new law that went into effect just two weeks ago.

Scott signed an executive order placing a moratorium on a controversial law, which made it harder for local governments to protect public access to privately owned beaches.

The law passed the state house and senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, but Scott said in a statement it was creating considerable confusion. However, like the law itself, this executive order does little to change how we've always used our local beaches.

Like many avid beach goers, Susan Simeone was confused about the "beach access" law that went into effect July 1.

"I thought the law was going to be that people would no longer be able to have access to the beaches," says Simeone.

However, little about the law changed how property lines were already drawn. Private properties along the beach often include the sand down to the mean-high water line. In the past, if a property owner tried to accuse beach-goers for trespassing on a stretch of beach commonly used by the public, a local government could pass a "customary use" ordinance to keep it public. The new law forced local governments to seek a judge's approval to cite customary use in an ordinance, meaning they would have to first sue the property owner.

Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce past-chair Mark Smith was relieved to hear Governor Rick Scott had second thoughts about the law.

"I don't believe it was necessary to begin with, since the mean-high water line is where folks are allowed to walk anyway."

If nothing else, he hopes the executive order means people's thinking won't change on our local beaches.

"My concern was that emboldened condo property owners or management, or even residences, would start fencing off their property to the mean-high water line," says Smith.

"To start saying 'this stretch of sand is mine, this stretch of sand is public.' I think it's really difficult to monitor that," says local resident Angela Dissaro, who was parking her car at Public Beach Access 5 on Siesta Key, a walkway surrounded by private beachfront properties.

"It just creates a lot of strife between people in the community, and I don' think it's necessary," she says.

"That's the way it should be," adds Simeone. "The beaches are for the people, not just for private ownership."

Scott's executive order also asks the Department of Environmental Protection be a liaison for the public and local governments. It must also create an online reporting tool for the public to express concerns about beach access. The agency is instructed to compile and present that public input at the next legislative session in 2019.

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