Lawyers for the Legislature and two state agencies asked the Florida Supreme Court to deny an appeal in a suit over a 2014 conservation constitutional amendment.
The lawyers responded this week to the appeal — filed last month by Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE) — which asked the Court to consider what lands conservation trust fund dollars can be spent on. They say a lower court already sufficiently answered the amendment’s intended meaning.
The Water and Land Legacy Amendment required putting a third of real estate documentary stamp tax revenue in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF). That money could be spent acquiring, restoring, improving and managing conservation and recreation lands.
But FDE, through its attorney Joseph Little, argued lawmakers violated the amendment, including by using the funds to cover state park management costs and keeping the savings for general revenue. The conservationists say the dollars cannot be used to manage lands purchased without the trust fund, created in 2015.
However, the 1st District Court of Appeal in September reversed a lower court’s opinion that backed FDE. The court instead argued the amendment’s wording applies to land owned before and after the fund’s creation, even privately-owned land.
“In short, the District Court’s decision places no restrictions on the State’s power to expend LATF funds virtually as it pleases and does not require it to acquire and restore any new conservation lands,” Little wrote.
Attorneys for House Speaker José Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano placed the blame on the creators of the citizen initiative, sponsored by Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Inc.
“Of course, the drafters of article X, section 28 could easily have limited non-acquisition activities to state lands acquired after a certain date,” the attorneys wrote. “But they did not, and voters adopted a proposal that promised to set funds aside for critical restoration and management purposes, such as restoration of springs, beaches, and the Everglades.”
The Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are also respondents in the suit with the Legislature.