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December hearing set for environmental Amendment 1 lawsuit

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A pivotal hearing in a lawsuit over the state’s environmental funding is coming up in December.

Lawyers for the Legislature and environmental advocacy groups are set to argue over a summary judgment motion Dec. 5 before Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson in Tallahassee.

Granting such motions allows parties to win a case without a trial.

Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others had filed suit over the “Water and Land Legacy Amendment,” the constitutional change approved by voters in 2014 that mandates state spending for land and water conservation.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment because (the amendment) prohibits the Legislature from appropriating land acquisition and restoration funds for any other purpose, but the Legislature appropriated most Amendment 1 monies to salaries and ordinary expenses of four state agencies,” their 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.

Attorneys for state lawmakers responded: “While plaintiffs might have struck a different balance than that struck by the Legislature … the Constitution commits that policy decision to the Legislature. Within constitutional limits, the Legislature alone is responsible for the appropriation of public funds.”

Amendment 1 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.

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.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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