Williamson farming operations bill signed into law

Special to Gannett/USA TODAY NETWORK

PACE — On April 30, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB88/HB1601: Farming Operations into law.

The legislation, sponsored by Representative Jayer Williamson (R-Pace), picked up the Senate version of the bill and passed it off the House floor with bipartisan support last week.

Rep. Jayer Williamson sponsored SB88/HB1601: Farming Operations, which was signed into law late last month.

The intent of the legislation was to amend the Florida Right to Farm Act, enacted in 1979, which protects farm operations from nuisance lawsuits if the operations are in compliance with federal laws, state laws or best management practices.

Specific changes to the act include that a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that his or her claim arises from conduct out of compliance with the laws or practices in a civil nuisance action against a farm. It also prohibits a nuisance action from being filed against a farm operation unless the real property affected is within one-half mile of the source of the activity or structure.

Limitations and clarifications for compensatory and punitive damages and attorney’s fees in certain situations were also included.

“I was honored to bring forward a bill that protects some of the hardest working men and women in our great state. Florida’s farmers grow crops that keep food on our tables and clothes on our backs, and it’s our responsibility to ensure proper protections are in place so they can continue to do so,” Williamson said. 

Additionally, the bill expands the definition of "farm operation" to include agritourism activity and particle emissions and establishes a definition of “nuisance” related to farm operations. It also specifies that, for agritourism activity, the “established date of operation” means the date the specific agritourism activity commenced.

While the impact of this bill reaches across all corners of the state, it significantly impacts Williamson’s district, which covers the majority of Santa Rosa County and parts of north Okaloosa, including Baker, Laurel Hill and a portion of Crestview.

“Whether I’m driving past the peanut or cotton fields, buying steak from a local cattle farm or taking my children to pick strawberries, I’m reminded of how important agriculture is, not just to Florida, but to Santa Rosa County in particular," Williamson said. "My commitment to protecting the livelihoods of those in our community and their ability to feed our families was paramount in championing this bill.” 

The law takes effect on July 1, 2021, now that the governor has signed the bill.

For additional information on the legislation, visit MyFloridaHouse.gov.