‘Right to Farm’ Bill awaits Governor’s signature

TALLAHASSEE – A bill that would expand FloridaÂ’s “Right to Farm” law is expected to be signed this week by Governor Ron DeSantis. The Florida House approved the measure by a vote of 110-7 on Thursday. It was then sent to the desk of Gov. DeSantis.

HB 1601 was sponsored by Rep. Jayer Williamson (R-Pace) and expands on the original law, which was passed in 1979 to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits. Part of that expansion includes prohibiting nuisance lawsuits filed by people who do not own property within a half-mile of the alleged violations, as well as protecting farmers who are in compliance with state and federal regulations, providing requirements for and limitations on damages, and requiring that plaintiffs who bring nuisance actions are liable for certain costs, fees, and expenses.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 88) passed in March. 

Rep. Williamson urged members of the House just before the vote on Thursday to see the bill as an opportunity to “thank a farmer”, giving an impassioned speech about the value of the agricultural industry.

“When you cut your knife into that juicy steak tonight, you need to thank a farmer,” said Williamson. “When you take your alternative medicine or grab your comfy shirt or grab your favorite workout towel, or you nestle in your sheets or put on the warmest pair of socks that you have, you need to thank a farmer. I could go on and on and on about the examples every day, throughout the day, in which you should thank a farmer.”

“And what I’m asking you to do today is to thank a farmer. By [voting yes] today, not through your words, but by your actions, you can truly thank a farmer.”

Critics of the bill have argued that it would limit lawsuits over the potential health impacts of burning sugar cane. But Farm Bureau Director of Legislative Affairs Adam Basford says it is simply about protecting farmers, especially from people who move to rural areas and file complaints about agricultural operations. 

“This bill creates a situation where if a farmer is following all the rules and regulations and doing everything the right way, they can’t be sued for simply doing their job,” said Basford. “Our farmers already face such adversity, from weather to pricing, to foreign competitors. With this bill, as long as they’re following the regulations, they won’t have to look over their shoulders. That’s why the rules are there.”

If passed, FloridaÂ’s would be the strongest right to farm law in the country.

Gov. DeSantis has until Thursday, April 29, to sign the bill.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.