Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

Amendment One:  The Road to the Courts

A majority of the members of the legislative houses of Florida did as predicted by many Florida voters, environmental activists and political commentators:  they callously and disingenuously ignored the will of voters who passed the Water and Land Conservation Amendment last November by an historic 3 to 1 margin.  And as also foreseen, ignoring Amendment One funding and allocation mandates has ensured that the legislature is now the defendant in a major lawsuit brought by Earthjustice (the legal organization founded by the Sierra Club), the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeepers, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.  This lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court in June of this year.

The suit asserts that $237 million of Amendment One funding was “patently misappropriated”.  As denoted  in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, alleged misuses of funds “include $174 million spent on salaries and other personnel costs in state agencies, $26.7 million spent on management plans and water retention projects on non-conservation agricultural land that is privately owned and $38.6 million spent on building sewage treatment plants and storm water facilities.”

This appears to be a clear misuse of the documentary stamp funds that, as directed by an Amendment to the Florida Constitution, are to be used for acquisition and management of conservation lands to protect Florida’s wildlands and waters.  Or, as Manley Fuller, the president of the Florida Wildlife Federation plainly stated:  “The Legislature did not do what the amendment requires.  Seventy-five percent of Florida voters approved this amendment last November, and they were clear that they want the state to buy conservation land.  Instead, the Legislature took the money and used it for things it should not be spent on.  This is a slap in the face to Florida voters, and it should not stand.”

Carl Hiaasen, columnist and political reporter, further explained the funding misappropriations in a recent column:

"After the debt service was paid on its bonds, the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund held $550 million that could have been spent the way voters intended — purchasing key tracts of unspoiled habitat and recreational lands.

Yet only about 7 percent of that money — $50 million — was actually set aside for new land as promised in Amendment One. Of that amount, a pitiful $15.2 million was allocated to Florida Forever, the state’s signature land-buying program….

The Legislature also swiped Amendment One funds to buy “risk management insurance” for several state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of State.

The money would cover worker’s comp claims and federal civil rights violations, off-the-wall expenditures that are nowhere to be found in the ballot language of Amendment One.

Even more suspicious is the $38.6 million appropriated for “springs restoration.” Earthjustice says the funds could actually be hijacked for municipal sewage plants and storm water systems, which also aren’t mentioned anywhere in the amendment."

In late September representatives of the Florida Legislature filed a motion seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.  Lawyers for both Houses feel that the monies have been appropriated for “permissible purposes” under Amendment One and note that “the challenge presents a question of policy, not law.”  Also, there is a question of the legal standing of the environmental groups as having a “direct and personal stake” in the allocation of Amendment One funds.  The circuit court judge may rule on this issue later in October.

Even if unsuccessful the current lawsuit will not be the only suit filed in relation to Legislative actions implementing  Amendment One mandates. Allocations issues will likely be in the court system well into the future.  This Amendment was intended for the benefit of all beings, voting and non-voting, but it will be months (or longer) before the legal system resolves the issues concerning the application, or misapplication, of Amendment One funds.

Quotation for the Month:

We regard all created beings as sacred and important, for everything has a wochangi, or influence, which can be given to us, through which we may gain a little more understanding, if we are attentive.

    -Black Elk [1863 – 1950; holy man of the Oglala Lakota]