Groups Seek To Lift Stay In Conservation Money Case

Sep 20, 2018

Arguing that time “is of the essence,” environmental groups Wednesday requested that a judge lift a stay of a ruling that found state lawmakers did not properly carry out a 2014 constitutional amendment that requires spending on land and water conservation.

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson in July ruled in favor of groups such as the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Florida Defenders of the Environment, which filed a lawsuit arguing that lawmakers had improperly diverted money to purposes other than conservation. But the state quickly appealed, a move that led to an automatic stay of Dodson’s ruling.

The environmental groups said they filed a motion Wednesday in Leon County circuit court arguing that the automatic stay should be vacated and pointed to issues such as an outbreak of toxic algae in waterways in Southeast and Southwest Florida.

“If the stay is not lifted, the Legislature can continue to spend Land Acquisition Trust Fund moneys on agency operations and for other purposes instead of buying land to address the toxic algae emergency,” the motion said. “Failure to vacate the automatic stay threatens irreparable harm to the citizens and the economy of Florida.”

The 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment was designed to require the state to use money from a real-estate tax to bolster land and water conservation.

Lawmakers and attorneys for the state have disputed that the money was improperly shifted to other uses.

After the appeal was filed, attorneys for the environmental groups requested that the 1st District Court of Appeal quickly pass the case along to the Florida Supreme Court, rather than going through the regular appellate process.

But the appeals court rejected that request Aug. 29.

“This litigation began in 2015 and involves appropriations that expired two years ago,” the appeals court said. “No immediacy exists, and the normal appellate process is adequate; to the extent a true exigency arises, the appellate process in this (1st District) Court can be expedited upon a proper showing.”