Bill Nelson brought his battle with Rick Scott to the beach on Friday.
The Democratic senator showed up on Santa Rosa Beach, hoping to capitalize on growing public outrage over legislation the Republican governor signed into law that restricts beach access for the public.
"There an easy way to fix this problem," Nelson said, demanding Scott call a special legislative session to reverse HB 631, which requires cities and counties to get court approval to enforce the doctrine of historical public access to dry sand on privately-owned beach, a principle known as customary use.
It went into effect July 1.
Scott, who is challenging Nelson, recently issued an executive order blocking state agencies under his control from taking actions that could limit public access to Florida's beaches, a defining aspect of the state's image as a tourist-friendly destination, but that hasn't quelled the controversy.
Enter Nelson, who held a news conference on the beach, dressed in tan slacks and a blue Polo shirt, and standing before a sign that read "no trespassing … private property."
"This law – and the confusion it has created – is turning residents and visitors away from our world-renowned sugar-white sand beaches and that's just not what Florida is all about," Nelson said. "Our tourism-driven economy is at risk and there's only one way to make it right: a special session of the state Legislature to fix the law. Beachgoers should be able to enjoy the sun and the sand without being harassed and without worrying whether they'll be arrested and what they've been experiencing on our beaches is just not right."
Scott's campaign said in a statement: "It's been widely reported that this legislation, which was passed with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans, does not privatize Florida's beaches."
"Unlike Washington politicians like Bill Nelson, when there was confusion regarding the interpretation of a new law, Governor Scott took action to address it," Scott's statement read. "Governor Scott took executive action to protect beach access and has been clear that he is committed to keeping our beaches open to public.
"With the national flood insurance program days away from expiring, Bill Nelson should be in Washington doing his job – not intentionally misleading Floridians at a political stunt."
A Walton County Commissioner has gathered 1,000 signatures calling for the beach legislation to be repealed, reports the Northwest Florida Daily News.