WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Private property rights on the beach are causing more confusion by the day.
NewsChannel 7/Local 18 News spoke to Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson about what can happen in you are caught trespassing.
"I want to be clear. Anybody in the state of Florida who does not think this applies to them does not understand the law because either you have the legal authority as a private property owner or you do not," Sheriff Adkinson stated.
When visitors come to Florida beaches, they expect to be able to sit back and enjoy the view, but ever since a State Bill 631 took effect, some Walton County gulf-front homeowners are making that impossible.
"It was the Florida welcoming committee, was a policeman telling us we had to get off the beach," said Dave who visiting from Louisianna.
Dave said he's been visiting the area and going to the beach for years, but said he and his family were kicked off a beach they didn't realize was private.
"Clear marking and putting up signs would be just wonderful. I mean, we're not looking to break the law. We're not looking to trespass," Dave said.
Just like Dave, many others say now that the State Attorney's Office released a statement saying violators can be prosecuted, they're worried they may go to jail for trying to just soak up a little sun.
"Essentially what has happened is we received a guidance from the State Attorney's Office previously saying that they did not think a prosecution was the appropriate step to take. About seven days later we received a second statement saying that position has been reversed and they believe a prosecution could be warranted under this case. That obviously creates some pretty serious issues," Sheriff Adkinson said.
The execution of the new bill seems to change almost as often as the tides.
"Ambiguity is the worst thing that can happen. And so when we've changed positions, I think this is the fourth position change in about 90 days, that's not fair to the public. It's not fair to the public to have to come down here and try to determine 'am I violating criminal law?'" Sheriff Adkinson explained.
The Sheriff said misinformation is fuel to the fire.
"They see something that supports their position and then forward it and everybody else says 'yes, yes, that's right.' And for all of us non-attorneys, just because it seems right and sounds right doesn't mean it's the law," he pointed out. "It is honestly a complex issue. Everbody wants to make it simple and so a lot of times people are forwarding things on social media about what high tide means, what the law says or doesn't say, and they are wrong."
Sheriff Adkinson said his department plans to enforce the new law with a balanced hand.
"Now, so ultimately the question would come down to this: Could you be arrested for trespassing on the beach? You're going to have to earn that. We're certainly not going to be proactive. We're certainly not going to be removing people on the beaches, we're trying to resolve the issues. The court, somebody needs to step in and give a definitive decision," Sheriff Adkinson said.
Until then, people like Dave said they'll vacation elsewhere.
"Yeah, we'll be going to Fort Pickens next time which is a shame. I love this place. I've became much more informed on this. I wasn't planning that on doing that on my vacation but we're trying to stay out of trouble and still have fun," he said.
Thursday night, Sheriff Adkinson hosted a live podcast of Facebook and Twitter for people to ask questions.
Representative Brad Drake is also hosting two town hall meetings, July 16th at Walton High School and July 17th at South Walton High School at 6:30 p.m.
There is also a petition that is being passed around on social media to repeal Florida Bill 631 and protect public use of the beach.
So far the petition has reach about half of its signatures with a goal of 1,000.