Property rights bill responding to U.S. Supreme Court case passes House

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A property rights bill filed in response to a U.S. Supreme Court case ruling in favor of an Orange County landowner passed the House on Friday.

The Supreme Court in 2013 overturned a Florida Supreme Court ruling against the late Coy A. Koontz Sr., who sought to build on 3.7 of his 15 acres in Orange County.

The St. Johns River Water Management District told Koontz in 1994 that he could build if he built smaller or paid to restore wetlands on agency property seven miles away. Koontz refused.

HB 383 creates a cause of action to recover monetary damages for landowners where state and local governments impose conditions that rise to the level of “unconstitutional exactions.”

The bill had pitted property rights supporters against local governments with the Florida Association of Counties and Florida League of Cities opposing the bill in early committee stops. State Rep. Katie Edwards, a Democrat from Plantation, sponsored the bill.

But supporters said the definition of damages that could be claimed against local governments were narrowed after meetings with interested parties. FAC and League of Cities representatives said their concerns were addressed during committee stops.

On Thursday, the House removed language that allowed local governments to treat claims during the permitting process as pending litigation, meaning they could be discussed in closed meetings. State Rep. Joseph Geller, a Democrat from Aventura, said the sunshine law exemption had to pass as a stand-alone bill and the Legislature should take that action next year.

“This is a very good bill,” Geller said. “It’s balanced. It protects the rights of citizens. It also protects local governments.”

Edwards used the bill adoption to honor former state Rep. Bert J. Harris Jr., 95, who she said was watching the House session. The Legislature in 1995 adopted the Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act, allowing landowners to sue for compensation for a government action that “inordinately burdens” their property.

“Responsibility to protect property rights belongs to us all regardless of party or caucus,” Edwards said. The bill passed 113-1. The Senate version of the bill, SB 284, is on the Senate special order calendar.

However, Nancy  Stroud, a land-use attorney in Boca Raton, said the Legislature is on the way to creating a cause of action for what the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court refused to recognize as a compensable action of local government.

“This will only chill the ability of local and state government to ensure that development mitigates the impacts that it creates,” Stroud said, “and will end up placing a greater burden on taxpayers, if only in the cost of defending the new litigation by developers that will be brought under the new statute.”

Bill supporters include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Builders Association of South Florida and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.