A Tallahassee judge has ruled in favor of Sierra and other Florida environmental groups in a 2015 lawsuit filed to force state officials to spend money approved by voters in a 2014 constitutional amendment election as intended.
The case had been scheduled to go to trial next month, but the judge ruled Friday in favor of environmental groups.
Legislators planned to appeal.
Environmentalists sued after legislators diverted the money approved by voters to cover routine environmental agency operating costs rather than restarting the Florida Forever program to finish purchasing land approved to protect Florida’s remaining targeted conservation lands.
The priority list included additional purchases on the Lake Wales Ridge and the Green Swamp in Central Florida.
Sierra and other groups have repeatedly asked legislators to spend the money as voters intended, but so far the expenditures have fallen short of the amendment’s intent.
Below are reactions to the ruling.
Alisa Coe of Earthjustice, one of the attorneys who represents plaintiffs Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Sierra Club, and Manley Fuller:
“Today’s decision is a big victory for the millions of Florida voters who demanded that the legislature reinstate land buying programs for parks, wild lands and the Everglades. Four million Floridians approved a constitutional amendment to devote almost a billion dollars a year to purchasing conservation lands. The legislature and agencies thumbed their noses at the voters by spending the money on other things. This ruling will help protect some of Florida’s most beautiful and environmentally important areas for generations to come.
In 2014, an overwhelming three out of four Florida voters approved the Land and Water Acquisition Amendment to the state constitution—it was the most popular item on the entire statewide ballot that year. Today’s ruling means that the state must honor the voters’ will to preserve our precious natural resources through conservation.”
Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director:
“Judge Dodson’s ruling today is a landmark decision making it clear that amendments to Florida’s constitution are orders by the people; they aren’t suggestions which the Legislature can decide to ignore. After four years of blatant misappropriation of taxpayers’ money, the Legislature has been forced by the Florida Courts to obey the voters mandate that it use a dedicated source of state funds to preserve and protect Florida’s natural lands.”