Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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The Mandate is Clear:
Don’t Slap Amendment 1 Voters in the Face

The new Legislature has been sworn in. At their swearing-in, members took an oath of office, placed their hands on a Bible and promised to uphold the Florida Constitution. Legislatures have tinkered in nefarious ways with voter-passed constitutional amendments in the past, but this new Legislature must do the right thing when implementing Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

Amendment 1 passed overwhelmingly last month, gaining approval from three-fourths of voters and netting 1.3 million more votes than Gov. Rick Scott. But there are already some troubling signs that lawmakers might break their trust with Floridians and try to violate the spirit of voters’ intent when implementing the law.

Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, bemoaned the notion of spending additional money to protect our water and land, lamenting that “we already spend hundreds of millions of dollars…on many initiatives that benefit Florida’s environment and natural resources.” He further warned that to rededicate money to protecting natural Florida, critical programs like infrastructure and affordable housing could suffer in the upcoming budget.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, has signaled that funds voters intended for water and land conservation might be directed to repair and maintain city sewer systems, and that it’s “up to us to interpret the intent” of voters. But the mandate from voters is clear: land preservation, Everglades restoration, wetlands clean-up, and protection of springs and waterways. Funding wastewater treatment and water supply development issues through Amendment 1 should be off the table.

Unfortunately there has been a troubling trend of lawmakers thumbing their noses at voter-approved amendments. In 2002, Florida voters passed the Class Size Amendment to demanded that the Legislature finally do something about overcrowded classrooms. In the years that followed, legislative leaders have done everything in their power to circumvent, undercut or flat-out overturn the amendment.

In 2010, voters solidly backed the Fair Districts Amendments to prevent lawmakers from rigging elections through gerrymandered districts. Yet, courts have invalidated some of the congressional maps drawn by the Legislature, and there still is no map that has met the court’s approval. Recently unveiled documents show how legislative leaders sidestepped the amendment by illegally hiring outside consultants to draw districts designed to keep the ruling party in power.

In 1976 Floridians passed the Sunshine Amendment to ensure open, transparent government. But over the years the Legislature has carved out numerous exemptions that violate the spirit of the law. And in many cases, as in the ongoing scandal over Gov. Rick Scott’s use of private email accounts to conduct state business out of the sunshine, politicians don’t even adhere to the open-government laws that are on the books.

The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment is structured so that no implementing legislation is required, just appropriations to existing conservation-focused programs. Using funds in a manner inconsistent with the spirit of this amendment would be a slap in the face to voters and a painful step backwards in protecting Florida’s natural treasures.

The current Legislature has a chance to prove that it is acting in the best interests of Floridians by implementing Amendment 1 in a manner that is true to the will of voters. Let’s hope they take that oath to uphold the Florida Constitution seriously.

Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization.  Column courtesy of Context Florida.

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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