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Squeezed: Supreme Court denies challenge of citrus veto

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The Florida Supreme Court Thursday dismissed a challenge of Gov. Rick Scott‘s veto of reimbursements to homeowners whose healthy citrus trees were torn down by the state.

The homeowners had asked the court to undo Scott’s veto of more than $37 million by filing a petition for writ of mandamus, an order to an elected official to perform a certain action.

In a 6-1 decision, the court declined, mentioning lower court actions that had been filed.

“Because the governor’s constitutional line-item veto authority at issue in this case is a part of the process that results in ‘an appropriation made by law,’ we hereby dismiss this petition without prejudice to seek redress in pending circuit court actions,” the order said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to pay homeowners in both Broward and Lee counties whose trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker, “a bacterial disease of citrus that causes premature leaf and fruit drop,” according to the state’s Agriculture Department.

The money was to pay off judgments that had been won against the state. The remaining “pending” actions seek to compel that payment.

Justice Barbara Pariente “reluctantly” agreed, saying “the petitioners (had) obtained final judgments, the validity of which are not contested,” and “the Governor’s veto was based on misinformation that the litigation in these cases was still ongoing when that was not the case.”

Though she said the court undoing a veto “is not legally permissible,” Pariente added that the “petitioners have the right to full compensation. The time has come for the state to pay up.”

Justice R. Fred Lewis dissented: “(F)ull and complete compensation when private property is taken by a government is a foundational cornerstone of this democracy.”

The U.S. constitution promises “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” and the state constitution says “no private property shall be taken except for a public purpose and with full compensation … paid to each owner.”

“This is not a game and our citizens should not be toyed with as if a yo-yo, and yet that is exactly what this veto accomplishes,” Lewis wrote.

“Now, with the opportunity to stop this ten-year game of yo-yo, this court abdicates its responsibility when it allows state actors to disregard their constitutional obligation by playing further games of delay and obfuscation. Justice demands that it stop now.”

Scott spokesman John Tupps called the matter “unfortunate.”

“Gov. Scott sincerely understands their concern,” Tupps said in a statement. “Due to ongoing litigation, the $37.4 million in the budget was not approved. We are hopeful that all litigation regarding this issue will be completely resolved, allowing the issue to be addressed comprehensively across the state.”

(Background material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

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 [email protected]

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