Walton County lawyer and citizen activist Daniel Uhlfelder saw a recent Bill Nelson campaign cartoon addressing area beach access and thought he might have noticed something of a family resemblance.
Although he’s sure the man in the ad has more hair and more muscles than he does, and his son and daughter complain they’re taller than depicted, seeing a family of four accosted by sheriff's deputies for sitting on a beach designated as private property is certainly something the Uhlfelders can relate to.
“I was with my wife and two kids when we were approached by police and asked to leave. My wife had her driver’s license processed while we were there with my mom and some friends. It’s a startling experience,” Uhlfelder said. “It’s something I won’t forget, and I don’t think my kids will ever forget.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's campaign launched the digital advertisement to take Gov. Rick Scott to task for signing controversial House Bill 631 into law. Scott is challenging Nelson for the Senate seat in the Nov. 6 election
It depicts law officers ordering a man and woman with their son and daughter off the beach. In the cartoon Scott walks by as they do and snatches an umbrella, which he sets up for a couple of fat cats. The ad ends with an angry Scott standing in front of a group of protesters holding signs, including one that says “Red Tide Rick Scott.”
“When you’re a zealot like Rick Scott and want to protect the rich and their property rights, when you’ll let police arrest anyone if they don’t have money to walk the beaches, it becomes a non-partisan issue,” Nelson campaign spokesman Dan McLaughlin said.
HB 631, which directly impacted only Walton County, eliminated its customary use ordinance and gave coastal property owners the right to order beachgoers off of dry sand areas for which the owners hold deeds.
The new law has caused a lot of turmoil in Walton County since it took effect July 1.
Deputies have been called out to mitigate disputes when beachgoers like the Uhlfelders, who hold to the belief everyone has a right of access to the coastline, decide to pitch camp at a spot on the beach that upsets a property owner.
HB 631, the Nelson ad claims, “makes access to public beach access harder to establish.”
The Walton County Commission has embarked on what has already proven to be an arduous process to re-establish its customary use ordinance. It can only do so by convincing a judge the public has been usingthe beaches of South Walton long enough that it has earned the right to continue to do so.
A group calling itself Florida Coastal Property Rights, objects to the “false narrative” of the Nelson ad.
“The new law does not block public beaches, it simply ensures that a third-party, neutral arbiter — a court — must be the one to declare customary use over a piece of privately owned land,” said group spokeswoman Sarah Bascom. “This process ensures that a local government cannot infringe on private property rights by unilaterally declaring customary use without judicial oversight.”
McLaughlin said the ad has “gone statewide” and has caught the attention of several media outlets.