Advocacy groups suing the Legislature over environmental funding now are asking a judge to hand them the win.
They filed suit last year over Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that mandates state spending for land and water conservation.
The measure requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. This year, that number is expected to total more than $740 million.
But the suit and Wednesday’s motion allege House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and other state lawmakers aren’t following through. The Legislature opposes the motion and will file a response soon.
“Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment because Amendment One prohibits the Legislature from appropriating land acquisition and restoration funds for any other purpose, but the Legislature appropriated most Amendment One monies to salaries and ordinary expenses of four state agencies,” the motion says.
Those agencies are the Department of Environmental Protection, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of State and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The standard for summary judgment is “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
The motion says: “That the Legislature appropriated funds for those purposes is not in dispute, and as a matter of law those appropriations are unconstitutional.”
The amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.
“Florida voters did not vote for salaries and operating expenses … Amendment One allows only for acquisition and restoration of conservation lands,” the motion adds.
“State officials have misused these funds, plain and simple,” said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm representing the groups.
“Floridians put an amendment into the Constitution directing the state to use these tax dollars to buy and restore conservation land,” he added. “With this legal action, we are asking a judge to hold up the intent of Florida voters.”
The case is in Leon County Circuit Civil Court and assigned to Circuit Judge George Reynolds III.
Jim Rosica (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee.