Anna Eskamani tables a bill granting legal rights to the natural environment


Orlando Democratic Representative Anna eskamani filed an invoice (HB 6003) Monday to create a path to grant legal rights to the natural environment.

But given Florida’s Republican-led legislature, the most important move Eskamani can possibly hope for on this bill is a philosophical discussion. A similar invoice tabled by Eskamani during the last session did not go beyond its first committee hearing.

But his bill is not the only measure aimed at giving polluted ecosystems legal status in court. A proposed constitutional amendment granting a right to clean drinking water could bypass the Florida legislature entirely and pose the question to voters – if it gets enough petition signatures to make it into the 2022 ballot.

The two efforts have placed Florida in the midst of a growing movement to give nature basic rights, something voters in Eskamani District already tried to do in November 2020 when they passed the Wekiva and Econlockhatchee Rivers Bill Rights, which protected the rights to these waterways in Orange County.

“They are a major tourism driver, and if we continue to ignore this and see pollution in our waterways, then we won’t even have anything to call nature in the future,” Eskamani said.

But that local law never came into effect because the Republican-led Florida legislature adopted a pre-emption law earlier in 2020, this would replace the amendment to the local Orange County charter.

Eskamani’s bill for the 2022 session would not add any new laws to Florida’s books. Rather, it removes the existing pre-emption law which states that a local government cannot “recognize or grant any legal rights to a plant, animal, body of water or any other part of the natural environment that does not” is not a person or a political subdivision. “

Removing the existing law would pave the way for local governments to grant legal protections to the environment should they choose to do so.

“I tabled this again because it’s such an important message to send, to say that not only is self-reliance really important, but our environment is too,” Eskamani said.

While Eskamani said his bill was “very local,” other parts of the country have also passed laws recognizing fundamental ecosystem rights.

Several tribes, such as the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, have granted rights to the natural environment.

The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania passed an anti-fracking law that declared, in part:

“Natural communities and ecosystems… have inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish. “

The Santa Monica California City Council passed a Sustainability Rights Ordinance in 2013.

“Natural communities and ecosystems have fundamental and inalienable rights to exist and thrive in the city of Santa Monica,” the Santa Monica read. arrangement.

These two cities have made environmental legal rights enforceable by allowing residents to take legal action when environmental rights are violated.

But in Ohio, when voters in Toledo adopted the Lake Erie Bill of Rights to protect “the irrevocable rights of the Lake Erie ecosystem to exist, thrive and evolve naturally,” a farming business and the State of Ohio filed a lawsuit that was switch back and forth in the courts since its filing in 2019. More recently, an appeals court ruled in favor of voters in Toledo, overturning a trial court decision and sending the case back to the lower court.

Eskamani also compared the nature rights movement to the US Supreme Court ruling Citizens United V. FEC, which recognized that businesses have the same rights as people.

“The whole point of the global nature rights movement is that if businesses are people, then shouldn’t nature have some sort of capacity to fight against these kinds of destructive measures? said Eskamani.

But the progressive lawmaker has acknowledged that the likelihood of her bill being passed by both Florida Republican-led chambers is slim. She hopes the tabling of this bill will allow her “to have a conversation with our fellow Republicans”, even though the legislation is unlikely to pass.

“I’m still hopeful that we move it, but I also realize that in the Florida legislature we have to measure success in different ways. Even being a voice in Tallahassee is an important role to play in the direction the state is taking, ”Eskamani said, adding that“ the direction the state is taking with regard to our environment is very frightening ”.

But Eskamani’s bill is not the only way to restore the will of voters in Orange County.

A petition from FL5, an environmental group, is currently collecting signatures to propose a constitutional amendment appear on Florida’s 2022 ballot that would “recognize a right to clean drinking water for all Floridians” and give Florida residents and organizations legal status to sue to enforce those rights.

But it remains to be seen whether Floridians want to join the movement or just conservationists. According to the Florida Division Elections website, the proposed amendment needs statewide support, and so far it has garnered 358 of the 891,589 signatures needed.

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