A proposal that aims to regulate the sleeping or camping on public property without permits in counties and cities has received the backing of a Senate committee in Tallahassee, Florida. The bill, introduced by Senator Jonathan Martin, seeks to address the mental-health crisis in the state and provide support for the chronically homeless population. Martin emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating that failure to take action would result in a worsening situation in the following year.
The Republican-controlled Senate Community Affairs Committee approved the proposal along party lines, mirroring the progress of a similar House bill that began moving forward last week. Under the Senate proposal, local governments would be allowed to designate specific public areas for sleeping or camping, provided they meet the standards set by the Florida Department of Children and Families. However, any designated area should not have an adverse impact on residential or commercial properties. Additionally, the bill would encourage individuals and businesses to file lawsuits against local governments that fail to comply with the proposed regulations.
However, Democrats and advocates for homeless individuals expressed concerns about the vagueness of the permit requirements outlined in the bill. They also raised issues regarding potential violations for activities such as falling asleep while sunbathing on the beach or waiting at a bus stop. Furthermore, the financial implications for local governments were brought into question.
Carrie Feit, senior attorney at the Community Justice Project, which advocates for renters facing eviction and homelessness in Miami-Dade County, suggested an alternative approach for municipalities. Feit proposed that public camping areas be supported with 24-hour security and resources for mental health and substance abuse, without negatively affecting surrounding property values. Failure to meet these criteria could result in legal action from businesses or individuals.
Senator Rosalind Osgood shared her personal experience of being homeless and working, sharing her preference for sleeping in her car due to safety concerns at homeless camps. Osgood emphasized the need to address the root causes of homelessness rather than relying solely on legislation. According to Senator Jason Pizzo, the proposal would benefit from starting as a pilot program in Lee County, which is Martin’s home county.
The bill currently lacks definitions for terms such as “sleeping,” “camping,” and “permitting,” according to a Senate staff analysis. The analysis also raised concerns about potential interference with existing local parks and recreation operations. While exceptions are included for states of emergency, it remains uncertain whether the bill could impact local emergency-management operations during scenarios that do not reach the level of a state of emergency, such as cold weather warnings.
The Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities have not yet taken official positions on the proposal. In the House, the Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee approved the House version of the bill, sponsored by Representative Sam Garrison. Both proposals must gain approval from two additional panels before reaching the Senate and House floors for further consideration.
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