by John Moran
The Santa Fe River Bill of Rights campaign is shifting into a new phase as it continues the effort to place a Rights of Nature measure on the 2020 ballot.
The SAFEBOR petition initiative netted more than 4,000 signatures from Alachua County registered voters during the six-month window ending Feb. 21, but was short of the total needed for direct placement on the ballot.
Plan B has ensued with SAFEBOR organizers appealing directly to both the once-a-decade Charter Review Commission and the Board of County Commissioners to allow voters in November to decide whether to amend the Alachua County Charter to include legally enforceable rights for the Santa Fe River to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.
The SAFEBOR campaign is part of a growing movement borne of the recognition that environmental protection laws in Florida have failed spectacularly to protect the waters upon which our health, safety and welfare depend, nearly 50 years after sweeping state and federal clean water standards were adopted.
The State of Florida has laws nominally intended to protect our living natural systems but because of the structure of our legal system, state agencies ordinarily are in the business of handing out permits that permit harm to varying degrees.
The results are plain to see in the deteriorating state of our rivers and springs. Many of our world-class springs—once stunning and blue—are now murky, polluted, depleted and green.
In Florida, corporate profits are prioritized over the health of our rivers and springs and SAFEBOR principals say past performance inspires little confidence in future outcomes.
“As long as Nature doesn’t have rights but humans and corporations do, then humans and corporations will always be allowed to significantly injure Nature with impunity,” says SAFEBOR chair David Moritz.
The Florida Rights of Nature Network has taken off in the past year and local initiatives are growing in 14 counties, inspired by the movements that abolished slavery in the 1800s, extended voting rights to women a century ago, and only in our lifetime has recognized civil rights for all Americans.
At its biannual convention in Orlando in October, the Florida Democratic Party adopted a platform resolution “recognizing and protecting the inherent rights of nature, as we have done for corporations.”
Unsurprisingly, the Florida Legislature has taken notice and a bill ironically titled the Environmental Protection Act of 2020 includes preemption language banning local government from recognizing or granting legal rights to the natural environment.
The bill is likely headed for the governor’s desk despite explicit language in the Florida Constitution sanctifying the right of local, community self-government: “all political power is inherent in the people.”
Moritz and others have encouraged both the CRC and BoCC to let the voters decide on rights for the river despite the threat of preemption.
“Yes, we seek to change the law,” Moritz says. ”More broadly, we seek a change in consciousness. A Bill of Rights for the River is a Bill of Rights for the Future. It’s the right thing to do.”
County residents are encouraged to comment by email to the Charter Review Commission (CharterReview@AlachuaCounty.US) and the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC@AlachuaCounty.US), and to speak up at public meetings of the two commissions (meeting information can be found online). Contact Gov. Ron DeSantis at Ron.DeSantis@eog.MyFlorida.com. Learn more at SAFEBOR.org.