By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
lawmakers rally behind the flag
Bills are flying in
the Legislature in reaction to homeowners groups that curtail the display
of Old Glory.
published January 12, 2002
TALLAHASSEE -- Fly the flag.
That's what mourning Americans were told
after the Sept. 11 attacks. But in some Florida communities, that simple
patriotic act proved controversial.
Flying the flag, it turns out, can be against
the rules. Tussles have broken out in some of Florida's planned developments
and condominium complexes, where even the tiniest detail is scrutinized
to make sure everyone's property conforms.
Some residents were told they couldn't
fly a flag on a free-standing pole -- it had to be attached to the house
by brackets. Others were told the opposite. In New Port Richey, a man got
a letter from his homeowners association saying he had to take a flag off
his roof and put it on a pole.
And in Jupiter, a long-running case has
a veteran facing foreclosure on his house and about $28,000 in fines, all
because he refused a homeowners association order to take down a flagpole
in his front yard. Some of his neighbors have turned around and sued their
association, saying they are embarrassed to live in a place where a man
is persecuted for flying a flag.
Now, several state lawmakers, Democrats
and Republicans, have filed bills to make it harder for homeowners associations
to restrict how people fly their flags.
"My position is, if you can burn a flag,
you should certainly be able to display one," said Anna Cowin, a Republican
senator from Leesburg who is sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal
to restrict how flags are displayed.
Cowin's bill sets stiff penalties: a $5,000
fine for a first offense, $10,000 for a second and jail for the third.
Her law would make it "unlawful for any person to prohibit the display
of the flag of the United States" unless it posed a health or safety threat.
It passed a Senate committee this week.
Sen. Steve Geller, a Democrat from the
Broward County community of Hallandale, was the first lawmaker to file
a bill to protect a person's right to fly the U.S. flag. He filed his bill
on Sept. 17, after hearing complaints from constituents who live in condominiums.
His measure would prevent homeowners associations from restricting how
people can fly flags, but it doesn't include penalties. It is up for consideration
by the full Senate after the Legislature convenes Jan. 22.
"I was personally appalled that in the
aftermath of 9-11, while the president and the governor were telling people
to fly the flag, and even while the flag was still flying at half-staff,
that people were being fined for flying a flag from a flagpole," Geller
After the terrorist attacks, Gov. Jeb Bush
asked Floridians to fly their flags, and immediately got an earful from
people complaining about deed restrictions. He released a statement urging
lawmakers to change the law.
"No one should be able to sign away their
rights to fly and display Old Glory," Bush wrote on Sept. 15. "While I
firmly support in general the right of communities to set their own policies
for those who choose to live in them, I nevertheless believe an exemption
applies to the flying of our flag."
One Florida activist group, Cyber Citizens
for Justice, has taken up the cause of homeowners who are restricted in
how they can display their flags.
"Most lawsuits are not about the right
to display the flag, but about the way they can display it," said Bob Janauskas,
the group's spokesman.
Don Taggart's flag troubles didn't end
up in court, but he learned the hard way that homeowners associations can
be pretty picky about how property owners fly the flag.
Taggart is a 73-year-old New Port Richey
retiree who spent 26 years in the Army. His trouble started last spring,
when he tacked a 4-by-7-foot American flag on the front of his house in
the Arborwood at Summertree development. On Sept. 12, he added a 5-by-9-foot
flag to his roof. The homeowners association asked him to put his flag
on a flagpole.
"It didn't sit too well with this old soldier,"
Still, he complied.
"It's over with now," Taggart said.
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed
to this report.