Acquiring lands in a springshed is one of the best ways to protect springs and rivers, and a judge just said the Florida legislature can’t divert funds from that purpose of Florida Amendment 1, which was passed by 75% of the people of Florida.
St. Johns Riverkeeper, blog, 14 June 2018, Legal Victory for Conservation Lands,
On June 15, 2018, Florida Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in favor of environmental organizations that the land conservation constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2014 requires funding to be used for land acquisition, restoration and management, not for other purposes.
Earthjustice, Joe Litte of Florida Defenders of the Environment and the plaintiff organizations— Florida Wildlife Federation, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, and St. Johns RIVERKEEPER—filed suit because the state legislature was violating the Water and Land Conservation Amendment by spending funds on unauthorized budget expenses, instead of land acquisition and restoration. The amendment was overwhelmingly passed in 2014 by over 75% of Florida voters.
Below are statements from plaintiffs in the lawsuit reacting to the ruling:
Manley Fuller, Plaintiff and President of Florida Wildlife
Federation: “Judge Dodson ruled today that the amendment funds are to be used for new land acquisition management and restoration from the Everglades to the Florida Panhandle! This is what the voters of Florida intended in 2014. The sun was shining in Florida today.”
Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper:
“Protection of Florida’s lands is critical to protecting Florida’s waters. Today’s ruling is a stunning victory for our state’s wild places, rivers, springs, residents and future generations.”
Alisa Coe, Earthjustice attorney:
“Today’s decision is a big victory for the millions of Florida voters who demanded that the legislature reinstate land buying programs for parks, wild lands and the Everglades. Four million Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to devote almost a billion dollars a year to purchasing conservation lands. The legislature and agencies thumbed their noses at the voters by spending the money on other things. This ruling will help protect some of Florida’s most beautiful and environmentally important areas for generations to come.
In 2014, an overwhelming three out of four Florida voters approved the Land and Water Acquisition Amendment to the state constitution—it was the most popular item on the entire statewide ballot that year. Today’s ruling means that the state must honor the voters’ will to preserve our precious natural resources through conservation.”
Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director:
“Judge Dodson’s ruling today is a landmark decision making it clear that amendments to Florida’s constitution are orders by the people; they aren’t suggestions which the Legislature can decide to ignore. After four years of blatant misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, the Legislature has been forced by the Florida Courts to obey the voters mandate that it use a dedicated source of state funds to preserve and protect Florida’s natural lands.”
According to the map above, counties in the Suwannee River Basin were among those that voted the lowest on Amendment 1, but Alachua was at 70% or above, Levy was 65% or above, Madison, Hamilton, Baker, Union, and Bradford were at 60% or above, Columbia, Suwannee, Gilchrist, and Dixie were at 50% or above, and only Lafayette County might have been as low as 40%.
Meanwhile, back in March, the Georgia State Senate never called a vote on HR 158 that would have stopped similar funds diversion from a wide array of trust funds for fees.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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