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Judge Says Trial Needed in Conservation Dispute

Dan Florida, Industry News Release, Irrigation, Lake Okeechobee, Water

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(NSF) — A Leon County circuit judge has said a trial is needed in part of a long-running lawsuit about how the Legislature carried out a 2014 constitutional amendment aimed at land and water conservation.

Environmental groups in October asked Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to grant summary judgment finding that some state budget items from 2015 and 2016 violated the constitutional amendment. Summary judgment would have short-circuited the need for a trial. But Dodson issued a nine-page ruling last week that said under a summary-judgment rule, “plaintiffs’ evidence is probably insufficient to conclusively establish the unconstitutionality of the appropriations challenged in their motions. On summary judgment, plaintiffs must prove the nonexistence of a genuine issue of material fact. Plaintiffs appear to be correct, but not to the extent to warrant summary judgment. This case should proceed to trial.”

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The constitutional amendment required setting aside a portion of real-estate documentary stamp tax revenues in what is known as the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for conservation efforts. Environmental groups, such as the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Florida Defenders of the Environment,  contend the money was supposed to go to buying and managing additional property and that the state improperly diverted money to other expenses.

In 2019, the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned a ruling by Dodson that said money from the amendment could only be used on land purchased after the measure took effect in 2015. But Dodson wrote in his ruling last week that a dispute about the constitutionality of specific budget items remained after the appeals-court decision. 

Source: News Service of Florida