Legislators’ Latest Local Government Pre-emption Attempt: Legal Rights For Natural Resources

This didn’t take long.

You may have read about a movement that began in this country last year when voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a charter amendment that conferred legal rights on Lake Erie in an effort to make it easier for citizens to fight agricultural and industrial pollution affecting the lake.

This, of course, did not sit well with business groups whose membership includes the polluters. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce secured a last-minute amendment to legislation being considered by the Ohio Legislature to invalidate the amendment, The Intercept reported in August.

Now that same impulse has arrived in the Florida Legislature, apparently in response to efforts in a handful of Florida counties to push for the passage of similar charter amendments.

One prominent target for protection is the Santa Fe River in north Florida where multinational Nestle is attempting to get a permit to pump more water from Ginnie Springs, which feeds the river, for its bottled water business.

The pre-emption is tucked into an otherwise environmentally friendly bill filed by Sen. Ben Albritton, whose district includes all of parts of Polk, Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto, Glades, Okeechobee, Charlotte and Lee counties. It will be discussed this week in a committee hearing.

It reads: ” A local government regulation, ordinance, code, rule, comprehensive plan, or charter may not recognize, grant, convey, or extend legal standing or legal rights, as those terms are generally construed, to a plant, an animal, a body of water, or any other part of the natural environment which is not a person or a political subdivision, as defined in s. 1.01(8), unless otherwise specifically authorized by state law or the State Constitution.”

The obvious workaround is to push for a constitutional amendment, but this year legislators are considering still more measures to beat down popular democracy by adding more obstacles to citizen initiatives to make the world safe for only legislative initiatives, since Tallahassee believes it knows best.