TALLAHASSEE — A group of Walton County residents on Monday took their case for the repeal of the law created through passage of HB 631 to the doors of the Florida Capitol.
RELATED: Bill filed to repeal controversial HB 631
Wearing bright yellow shirts bearing the message "repeal the bad beach bill," the crew rallied outside the state government complex and met with sponsors of House and Senate legislation that would, if passed, eliminate the law.
They also spent time walking the capitol halls, handing out cards to lawmakers whose votes are needed to move HB 6063 or SB 1268 out of committee and toward passage.
"It was our first real communication with real people who are the decision makers in Tallahassee," said Samantha Herring, who with restaurateur Dave Rauschkolb, has been leading the local effort in support of repeal. "We wanted to create an environment that fostered good will."
Passed into law in 2018, HB 631 nullified a Walton County customary use ordinance and freed up county beach property owners to post no trespassing signs and erect fences to keep beachgoers off sections of dry sand beach to which they held deeds.
Herring, Rauschkolb and other proponents of customary use — the theory that beaches should be open to all by virtue of their always having been that way — are confident that the vast majority of Florida citizens think the way they do.
They believe many legislators did not realize what they were voting on when HB 631 was brought to them two years ago, and can be convinced now to support repeal.
Herring said state Sen. George Gainer, whose district includes Walton County and the coastal region of Okaloosa County, was one of the few lawmakers who opposed HB 631. She said Gainer showed a real interest Monday in assisting in the fight for repeal.
"He told us he didn’t know if he could salvage the bill this session, but I feel like he brought in people to speak to us who can help facilitate our effort going forward," she said.
Gainer said he’s spoken with fellow Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the sponsor of the 2018 Senate companion to HB 631. He said Passidomo, who is in line to be a future Senate President, didn’t seem opposed to a bill that would remove only Walton County from its the law’s constraints.
"I think we’ve got enough support to get this thing done, though maybe not this year," he said. "It’s not as hot as it was. Now it’s focused on Walton County, and that’s the only county we’re trying to fix."
Herring acknowledged that the repeal bill fight is a "David and Goliath situation." The bills, HB 6063, sponsored by state Rep. Evan Jenne, and SB 1680, sponsored by Sen. Lori Berman, are being carried by Democrats in a Legislature dominated by Republicans.
Gainer’s support can carry significant weight in the Senate. He said he should know in the next couple of days whether a path toward amending the current law exists.
Northwest Florida’s House members have not shown the same interest in championing HB 6063.
The bill’s first House stop is the Civil Justice Subcommittee chaired by Naples Republican Bob Rommel. Emailed efforts to reach Rommel or Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who sits on the subcommittee, were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Jenne was not available for comment.