On Tuesday in Tallahassee, after meeting with CDC boss Robert Redfield about the agency’s initiative that seeks to reduce new HIV transmission by 75 percent in five years, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went about signing bills. He signed the following into law:

  • CS/HB 7 – Direct Health Care Agreements
  • CS/HB 207 – Impact Fees
  • CS/HB 213 – Immunization Registry
  • CS/CS/CS/HB 301 – Insurance
  • CS/CS/HB 453 – Micromobility Devices
  • CS/HB 521 – Wetland Mitigation
  • HB 549 – Continuing Education for Dentists
  • CS/HB 831 – Electronic Prescribing
  • CS/HB 7057 – Corrections
  • CS/SB 190 – Higher Education
  • CS/CS/CS/SB 862 – Lessor Liability Under Special Mobile Equipment Leases

Since his state’s Legislature adjourned on May4, the Florida governor has signed about 140 bills, vetoed only 1 — a water district issue — and may have about a dozen more to get through by the June 28 deadline. But Tuesday was another day of intrigue in the Sunshine State because  one bill DeSantis did not sign was Senate Bill 82. It’s about home vegetable gardens.

Yes, vegetable gardens. It’s among the dwindling number of bills that Gov. DeSantis has not cleared off his desk. To be fair, SB 82 has only been on the governor’s desk since June 13 because legislative leaders seemingly withheld their signatures until the last minute, maybe hoping to catch DeSantis in the right mood.

The Flordia Legislature did not hesitate in passing the vegetable garden bill 35-5 in the Senate and 93-16 in the House. But there it sat, in legislative offices, from May 1 until this past week when the necessary legislative signatures were attached for the ride over the governor’s office.

If signed by DeSantis, the bill will ban any county, municipality or other political subdivision from making rules about vegetable gardens on residential properties. It further makes any existing laws and regulations about vegetable gardens on residential property “void and unenforceable.”

Local ordinances about water use, fertilizers, or control of invasive species could still apply to a vegetable garden, so long as they are not targeted.

The intrigue that was re-ignited this week is nothing new for Florida’s great vegetable garden dispute. It was fought out at City Hall and in the Florida courts.

Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll kept a large vegetable garden in the front yard of their Miami Shore Village home for 17 years. The town dropped a “courtesy notice” off in May 2013, politely telling the couple their garden was “prohibited” and must be removed.

Miami Shore’s new zoning code meant vegetable gardens were not aesthetic enough for a front yard and had to be moved to backyard space.

Ricketts and Carroll had long ago found their backyard to be too shady for a veggie patch, and they weren’t willing to move it. On Aug. 31, 2013, the town’s Code Enforcement Board found them in violation of the ordinance, ordered the garden removed, and imposed a $50 per day fine for non-compliance.

Ricketts and Carroll sued the town, seeking to win a judgment that Floridians have the right to grow food on their property. Their case became a national cause. It was profiled in the “You Be The Judge” section of Reader’s Digest.

It’s trip through Flordia courts ended four years later when a three-judge appeals panel in Flordia’s Third District upheld lower court decisions that found the town had not restricted anyone’s fundamental right.

The Third District panel said Ricketts and Carroll were free to pursue changes in the zoning ordinance from the town council. Florida’s Supreme Court last year passed when asked to hear the case.

The issue instead ended up before the 2019 Florida Legislature.

The Florida League of Cities, representing 400 cities and towns, is working behind the scenes to get DeSantis to veto HB 82. The League sees it as a “Home Rule” issue that the Legislature need not have entered into.

The Legislature cited the rights extended in the Florida Constitution to “acquire, possess and protect property,” while mentioning cities have “broad authority” under the state’s Home Rule Powers Act.

The governor’s media office has not responded to inquiries about the fate of SB 82 and it’s possible no one will know its fate until the very end.

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