Voters’ will? Legal case over FL conservation land-buying measure has its day in court Tuesday

    Julie Hauserman photo

    Five years ago, a whopping 75 percent of Florida voters approved a state Constitutional amendment to dedicate a share of state tax dollars to conservation land buying. The enormously popular measure got more votes than any candidate (or any other issue) on the ballot.

    It wasn’t a new tax – it just earmarked 33 percent of the money already collected through the documentary tax on real estate transactions “to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands” for future generations.

    But right off the bat, the Florida Legislature started raiding the land conservation land-buying money for other things – like buying vehicles and paying insurance premiums and salaries – operating costs that normally come from the state’s big pot of tax dollars, the General Revenue fund.

    Environmental groups went to court to get lawmakers to adhere to what voters directed in the Water and Land Conservation amendment to Florida’s Constitution. Last summer, Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, in a ruling from the bench, agreed with the groups that legislators had defied voters’ will.

    The state appealed, and on Tuesday, the legal case will be heard in the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. A number of groups sued the state, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Florida Defenders of the Environment, Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. They are being represented by the nonprofit national legal firm Earthjustice and other independent lawyers.

    For years, the state’s Florida Forever conservation program led the nation. From 1990 to 2008, the Florida Legislature earmarked $300 million a year for conservation land-buying. Then, the commitment dwindled. One year, the state allocated no dollars at all to Florida Forever. In the most recent state budget, legislators appropriated only $33 million for Florida Forever.

    2 COMMENTS

    1. Thank you for covering this. It is one example of many of the R dominated Fl. leg. defying the will of the people: class size, high-speed rail, fair districts, felon disenfranchisement, medical marijuana, to name a few. Voters badly need to rid us of these despicable politicians. How they keep getting re-elected is a mystery, other than their own Gerrymandering, of course.

    2. The Florida Legislature has, for years, been ignoring the obvious will of a high majority of Florida voters. The Constitutional Amendment process is a slow, expensive, and time consuming process to accomplish very badly needed reforms in state law, that the legislature refuses to recognize. This is, in large part a result of the gerrymandered method of selection of these members of the Legislature. Seems to me that the next major push from the voters ought to be the creation of a Citizens’ Commission to create fair, nonpartisan voting districts. I don’t see any other method by which the citizens can replace these petty demigods with real, fairly elected legislators. The U.S. Supreme Court recently proved that we cannot rely on the Courts to do it.

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