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Earthjustice, enviro groups slap Legislature with Amendment 1 lawsuit

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Shortly after filing suit against the Florida Legislature for allegedly “misappropriating” some $300 million in public funds and failing to comply with the state Constitution, environmental advocacy group Earthjustice held a conference call where it told reporters that lawmakers have willfully ignored the will of the voters — and their legal obligations.

“We don’t think what the Legislature did meets the constitutional test,” said Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller, listed as a plaintiff in the 10-page complaint before the Leon County Circuit Court.

“We just don’t think the Legislature got it right, so we are seeking judicial guidance by the courts for the Legislature on how these dollars are properly allocated.”

The argument Earthjustice laid out on behalf of the FWC, enjoined by the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, proceeds more or less as follows: If the Legislature had $400 million for tax cuts despite the federal government yanking away nine figures in funds for hospital care, they had enough to acquire new land for conservation

Instead, lawmakers chose not to, in contravention of the newlyenshrined Amendment 1, which Earthjustice attorney David Guest argues mandated that they do so.

Answering questions about the timing of the lawsuit — Gov. Rick Scott is expected to nix at least some funding items, though he cannot add more — Guest conceded the lawsuit could not stop the appropriation of state money, though it could force them to adhere to its strictures next legislative session, which begins in January.

“Amendment 1 sets clear, identifiable boundaries for the Legislature. What we’re asking from the court is to confirm that these are the boundaries. We cannot require the land be purchased, or pass policy in the Legislature …what we can do is say the amendment means what it says,” said Guest Monday afternoon.

State courts have ruled — in the case of disgraced former Speaker Ray Sansom, for instance — that the right to appropriate funds is a nearly absolute prerogative of the legislative branch.

Do Guest and Earthjustice see a way around that?

“We’re not saying, ‘you must buy this or that land,'” Guest explained. “What we can do is get, what’s plausible, is a determination from the state Supreme Court of what’s a permissible use and what is not.”

“When we get that, I think the Legislature will comply, or if not, we’ll have the ground rules established so that if they try it again, we can actually stop them.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and the Legislature as a whole are listed as defendants in the suit.

Read the full complaint here.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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