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Let's Make the Right to Clean Water a Reality


This has not been a good year for water quality in the sunshine state. Developers were the big winners in this year's legislative session and, if you live in Manatee County, you know that your government and its puppet masters have been overhauling local regulations in a manner sure to make things worse.

For this reason, the effort to amend the Florida Constitution with the Right to Clean Water may be the most important petition drive in recent history.

The amendment would essentially require the state to both fix Florida's waterways and stop polluting them. This would be achieved in a number of ways, including by forcing regulatory agencies to actually enforce existing regulations, something that far too often does not occur.

The amendment would also endow citizens with the right to sue for injunctive or declaratory relief against agencies that do not comply without having exhausted all administrative remedies or having demonstrated special or direct injury an extremely important element of the proposal.

Violations will be considered de novo, a standard of review that comes from the Latin word for ""anew."" When a case is reviewed de novo, it means that an appellate court does not have to give deference to the decision of the lower court. It simply needs to determine the appropriate ruling and apply it.

Agencies would be required to demonstrate that actions or inaction taken were ""necessary to promote a compelling government interest and was narrowly tailored to advance that interest."" If an agency's action or inaction is found to be a substantial factor in a violation, it would be liable for the violation and could not avoid liability on the basis that the action or inaction of another party or nonparty also contributed.

The prevailing plaintiff would be entitled to relief that would remedy the violation, including, ""injunctive relief to restore waters to the condition that existed prior to the proven violation."" A prevailing plaintiff would also be entitled to reasonable attorney's and expert witness fees.

This would be a powerful amendment that would meaningfully address the current power imbalance, while inherently disincentivizing the current culture of lax regulation of existing laws, as well as future efforts to take actions that would put our state's already imperiled supply of potable water at further risk.

Floridians who've been following along know that we are not going to achieve anything remotely resembling such protections through legislative action, which is why supporting this amendment is a no-brainer.

To learn more about the Florida Right to Clean Water Amendment, click here. To sign the petition for it to be placed on the 2024 ballot, click here.

Dennis ""Mitch"" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.


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