Tampa Bay lawmakers push to ensure flag-flying rights

Two Tampa Bay lawmakers want to ensure the right to fly Old Glory at home.

By David DeCamp, Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2008

TALLAHASSEE - Joe Bell of Land O'Lakes wants to keep Old Glory flying in his front yard - and at least two Florida lawmakers are more than happy to help him.

In the latest effort to protect flag-flying Floridians, two Tampa Bay area lawmakers want to give every homeowner the right to fly the U.S. flag and a flag of a military branch on a free-standing pole.

Bell is among those whom the measure would protect. He erected a 20-foot flagpole in his yard, only to have his neighborhood management company order it taken down last year, citing community rules banning yard ornaments and flag displays.

Irked by that decision - and seeing the flag flapping away at the neighborhood's model home - Bell balked.

"My father and grandfather didn't fight in Korea or World War II for a lawn ornament," said Bell, 46.

But Bell wasn't the impetus for the legislation. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, unveiled the Senate version of the bill SB 1378 in January after a New Port Richey area family was ordered to take down a lighted flag on a 16-foot pole built by their Marine son.

Fasano's co-sponsor in the House is Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, a flag shop owner. Nehr's version of the bill (HB 857) passed its first of two committees on Wednesday.

Nehr said his business creates no conflict for him; he said he's selling the Tarpon Springs shop in a few months. But neighborhoods increasingly have rules that hold back people's patriotism by displaying the flag, he said.

Florida law currently protects "portable flags," but allows neighborhood restrictions against flags on permanent posts. Under the proposed bills, a flagpole must be no taller than 20 feet, and the flag can be no larger than 41/2 feet by 6 feet .

"We don't want people to put a stick in the ground," Nehr said.

Army 1st Lt. Geoff Grant put up the flagpole in his parents' back yard to honor his grandfathers' service. Then the neighborhood property management company ordered it down because it violated community restrictions.

"That flag is staying because I think of him every time I look at it," Susan Grant said of her son, who will leave for Iraq on Saturday.

The neighborhood relented on the Grants' flag, but not Fasano, who has a history of star-spangled legislation. He made headlines in 2004 when he successfully pushed a law requiring the flag to be displayed in classrooms. A year earlier, he sponsored another law giving condo owners the right to fly the flag on patriotic holidays.

Fasano has another bill this year requiring Florida and local government agencies to buy only American-produced U.S. or state flags (SB 852).

Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, has filed yet another bill (SB 90): No local government could pass a law stopping the flag from being flown in a "respectful way."

If anyone needed a clue, the bill is called the "Florida Flies the Flag Act."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.