Legislature seeks to halt conservationist’s appeal over Land Acquisition Trust Fund

land conservation florida
They say a lower court already sufficiently answered the amendment's intended meaning.

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.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at r[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


  • Christopher Kennard

    December 27, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    My name is Chris Kennard, a long term environment movement activist who organized a community action group to expose and eventually close down the Koppers Wood Treatment SuperFund site in 1984-1985, in Gainesville, Florida polluting the air, land and water. The League of Women Voters, Clear Water Action Project, Marjorie Carr and the Florida Defenders of the Environment (F.D.E.), as well as other groups, all joined our coalition to compel the EPA to act to protect our city.

    Since the first Land and Water Conservation ballot initiative petition signing drive in 1998, I have been an unpaid volunteer petition canvasser, collecting voter signed petitions for years, and later as a volunteer coordinator, organizing volunteer citizen-led groups collect signed ballot initiative petitions to enact our own state constitutional amendment laws under which we choose to live and abide by.

    We do this because Florida politicians repeatedly refuse to pass laws we, the people of Florida, wish to enact . . . like a last Land and Water Conservation Act we approved in 2014, which our “public officials” have now gone to state courts to nullify, so they do not have to “obey” our wishes to use our money to protect our natural resources, with the tax funds we set aside by law for this noble purpose.

    Other ballot initiative laws we have approved over the last twenty years have also been challenged by our politicians who object to our ability to approve our own laws when they refuse to do so. Our Fair Election District Boundary Act (2010), our Medical Marijuana Amendment (2016), as well as our Felon’s Right To Vote (2018) are all examples of how and when politicians betrayed the responsibility and trust we elected them to hold and use on our behalf . . . which is not what they do at all.

    Today, I am part of a volunteer citizen’s group, FL CITIZENS RIGHT TO PETITION, creating a people’s peaceful, effective way and means to oppose the new 2019 Florida House Bill-5 (HB-5) that shreds our Florida citizens’ state constitutional right to petition to place our own Florida State constitutional amendment laws on the ballot, in order for us to vote to enact them, when necessary to do so; thereby bypassing politicians who have repeatedly refused to respond to us and pass our laws.

    A current batch of Florida politicians in power believe they should have a right to create our state laws while ending this inherent right of the people, as a better means of control; make us comply and obey.

    HB-5 blocks our rights as Florida citizens; while corporations, millionaires and politicians likely will be the only ones with the ability and money to conduct future petition drives. Now, they decide what laws will be on the ballot for voters to choose from, and those which may not be on the ballot. We get to choose only what we are “given” by politicians to vote upon. Unless we stop them! And we can!

    We are filing a federal court challenge to rescind the new HB-5 law which was enacted to get rid of ballot initiative petitions, and to suppress the progressive vote to elect Trump, as occurred in 2016, by manipulating 2020 district election results, where a few thousand votes can make all the difference.

    It is known that popular petitions bring more voters out to go vote on Election Day. It is also believed that Trump (or his substitute, if Trump is impeached and convicted) cannot win the 2020 presidential election without Florida. This is a good part of why the HB-5 law was quickly passed this year; to stop progressive petitions being placed on the 2020 election ballot, which would bring many more voters to the polls to vote but who may not vote for Trump. We turn the tables by using HB-5 to expose this!

    Just as we cannot ignore what is happening in Washington D.C. today, we cannot ignore what is happening under our noses in Florida, today . . . tomorrow . . . and well into our future, if we do not act now!

    Join us! FL CITIZEN’S RIGHT TO PETITION (on Facebook) or FL CITIZEN’S RIGHT TO PETITION on GoFundMe at https://www.gofundme.com/f/fl-citizens–right-to-petition-legal-defense-fund

  • Edward freeman

    December 27, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    The Republican majority in the Florida Legislature continues their now decades long quest to subvert the clear will of the voters of Florida.  This is beyond outrageous.   They should all be voted out of office.  I don’t know what caused the 1st District Court of Appeals to reach such a clearly false conclusion.  Perhaps the judges who heard this case were asleep that day, but I imagine it has more to do with the fact that many were appointed by one of Florida’s most notorious thieves, Rick Scott.  Perhaps, they like Mr. Scott are criminally minded? Regardless, no Scott appointee has the least whiff of legitimacy.

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