Tallahassee is a beautiful place. Having spent more time there recently, I have grown to appreciate it. Sometimes, in the early morning, as the sun is rising over the hills, I envision Apalachee warriors and families approaching “Anhaica,” their capital. There is a lot of sacred ground here…
Today, I will summarize week 12-11-17. For me, there were battles won, and cease-fires. And the war for Florida’s environment will continue. Thank you to all who wrote members of committees in support in the previous weeks!
On Tuesday, December 12th, I presented proposal P23, ” A Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment,” to the Judicial Committee (https://www.flcrc.gov/Committees/JU/). I am proud to say P23 has caused a stir, is making people think, and generating tremendous resistance from the “entrenched-status-quo-power” of the government and business communities as it would give every-day Floridians more standing in court for a clean environment. Power would shift to the judicial, rather than the executive and legislative branches of government, and some agencies would be no longer be “puppets.”
The presentation went well, however, based on comments from many members of the committee, and feedback, I felt the vote would not pass. I was offered a “TP” or “temporary postponement” in order to work on the language as I had not been successful at this —with the opposition —-who refused to do so the previous two weeks. They want “no part of P23 in the constitution.”
Unlike local government, where a commission or council can adjust the language of an ordinance during the meeting, this cannot occur during a CRC committee meeting, so the only way to achieve such is to “postpone” and “work on” prior to the next meeting— and try again. (Very inefficient)…
So, I look forward to working on the language, but I am concerned that ameliorating the language to an acceptable point for the opposition will be so far away from the spirit of the original proposal it may not be recognizable or effective. This would not be good.
In the end, it will be the students of Stetson and Barry Universities and their professors who created P23, a totally public proposal, who will give me final direction.
P23 will go before the Judicial Committee again when called. Chances are this will be in January 2018. It could pass; it could die; it could be withdrawn. Should it pass, it will have to go also to the General Provisions committee, and then to the full CRC for a final vote to go to ballot.
The greatest aspect of P23 is working with young people who are our future generation of leaders because as the proposal states: “the natural resources of the state are the legacy of present and future generations…”
On Wednesday, 12-13-17, I presented P46, to the Legislative Committee (https://www.flcrc.gov/Committees/LE/) to “Clarity Language in Article X, Section 28, of the Florida Constitution, Land Acquisition Trust Fund.” Ms. Sue Mullins, who came to my attention through Stuart’s Joan Bausch and the Native Plant Society, was very helpful and knowledgeable and assisted during the presentation. Again, the proposal was “TP-ed” as Chair Pepe Diaz and others such as former Senate President, Tom Lee said they could not support P46 as written and recommended working together on the language. I am confident they meant this, and we shall try between now and when the committee meets again in January. Their concerns are funding requirements, appropriations, of the state legislature; and our concern is the Legislature ignoring a 2014 citizen initiative that passed by 75% for land conservation. P46 too must go to General Provisions should it pass, and then to the whole CRC for a vote to possibly go on ballot.
On Thursday, 12-14-17, I presented P91 “No Oil or Gas Drilling in Florida’s Territorial Waters.” This was an interesting experience as I was presenting to the committee I chair, General Provisions. (https://www.flcrc.gov/Committees/GP/)
As a presenter, I am just like anybody else.
Mr David R. Mica, Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Council, AIF, and other business interests spoke against, but fortunately, Mr Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, and citizens spoke “for,” and were quite convincing. There were even two young children in the audience rooting me on! I was very pleased when the committee voted 5 to 2 in favor of P91! P91 will now go to the Declaration of Rights Committee (https://www.flcrc.gov/Committees/DR/) in January, and then if passes, again, to the full commission to possibly go on 2018 ballot.
Everyone has heard the story….Florida voted 75% in favor the 2014’s citizen’s initiative, “Amendment 1,” and once it was in the constitution, the hard-earned constitutional amendment was “ignored” or “reinterpreted” by the state legislature…
In 2015 the Tampa Bay Times wrote: “Few betrayals of the public trust have played out so openly and brazenly as the Florida Legislature’s fraudulent effort to implement Amendment 1, the land-buying measure that three-fourths of voters overwhelmingly approved five months ago. This should be a banner year for protecting the state’s endangered lands. Instead, Amendment 1 is becoming a bait-and-switch that would take Florida back — not forward — in saving its natural resources.” (http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-legislators-ignore-voter-intent-on-amendment-1/2227235)
As a commissioner for the Constitution Revision Commission for 2017/18, (http://flcrc.gov) I have sponsored proposal #46 to help fix this issue. Brought to my attention by long time Martin County Native Plant Society member, Mrs Joan Baush, and crafted together with policy advisor, Sue Mullins, and environmental legend, Clay Henderson, this proposal follows at least seven others submitted to the CRC on the subject, not to mention the numerous requests of multiple speakers during the Constitutional Revision Commissions’ statewide public hearings.
The purpose of proposal #46 (originally public proposal #700705) is to “clarify that a percentage of doc-stamp tax revenues will be devoted to the purchase and care of scientifically selected and publicly supported land and water areas for the purposes of conservation.” An explanation, and the proposal are below. To support, please write members of the Legislative Committee, where this will first be heard: http://flcrc.gov/Committees/LE/
The CRC comes around only every 20 years, and is one of five ways Florida can amend its constitution; thus the time is now! Let’s get this clarified!
Land Acquisition Trust Fund Amendment
Section 28, Article X
This proposed Amendment to S. 28, ART. X is to clarify that a percentage of doc stamp tax revenues will be devoted to the purchase and care of scientifically selected and publicly supported land and water areas for the purposes of conservation.
On November 4, 2014, Florida voters approved the Florida Land and Water Conservation Amendment 1 by 75%.
But the 2015 Legislature determined that the broadness of the measure already allowed them to spend the earmarked revenue of a wide array of programs through the Land Acquisition Trust Fund—some not at all environmental in substance—as well as supplant existing agency operations funding with the “new” Amendment 1 dollars.
The measure was designed to dedicate 33 percent of net revenue from the existing excise tax on documents to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, where it was assumed its namesake Land Acquisition Trust Fund would denote the purpose and intent of the amendment to acquire and manage environmentally sensitive land.
Because the drafters of Amendment 1 used the Land Acquisition Trust Fund as the receiving account (thinking it would be obvious the intent for the use of funds), without specifying an amount strictly dedicated to land acquisition, they allowed for all expenditures provided in s.375.041, F.S. governing use of funds for the LATF, which at the time, allowed for virtually anything the Legislature wanted to fund.
Once the measure passed by an overwhelming 75% of the Florida electorate, supporters assumed that at least $300 million annually would be devoted to the Florida Forever program. The amount, over 20 years, was thought to finish the job of securing the lands necessary to protect our natural resources, drinking water, habitat and industries such as agriculture and tourism.
That did not happen (see below.).
What this Amendment Does
The intent of this new Land Acquisition Trust Fund Amendment to S. 28, ART. X is to clarify that a percentage of doc stamp tax revenues will be deposited into the Florida Forever Trust Fund to purchase and care for scientifically selected and publicly supported land and water areas for the purposes of conservation.
The proposal simply amends language passed in 2014 as the Land and Water Legacy Amendment 1 by depositing the earmarked funds in an appropriate Trust Fund and clarifying the purposes for use of those funds.
A specified amount, no less than one third of the revenue deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, is earmarked for deposit into the Florida Forever Trust Fund as it existed in law on January 1, 2017.
This language recognizes that the LATF and other doc stamp-funded accounts should continue to have a suitable amount of revenue to support existing programs such as Springs and Everglades protection, beaches, and local government water projects.
More specificity has been provided in the new amendment by striking the phrase “and improvement” to ensure that Florida Forever funds are spent per the science-based regimen contained within statute (s. 259.105, F.S.), and by adding the phrase “natural” to the type of resources authorized for expenditure.
This Florida Forever Amendment will fix the issue to provide funding to accomplish a majority of Florida’s conservation work through dedicating a set amount each year (depending on revenue, from $175 to $300 million) to be spent according to current statute governing the proven, science-based, willing-seller Florida Forever program.
Implementation of Original Amendment 1
In 2014, a broad coalition of environmental, business and civic leaders proposed the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, which became Amendment 1 to the Florida Constitution. The intent was to recapture the annual amount of funds devoted to land conservation by earmarking a third of the revenue from the doc stamp tax and depositing it into the Land Acquisition TF for the purposes of buying, managing and restoring environmental lands. The measure passed by 75% of voters.
But the Legislature interpreted and appropriated Amendment 1 spending to include agency salaries, IT, risk management insurance, agency vehicles and other non-conservation uses.
The statute has also since been amended to accommodate implementation, per legislative judgement of Amendment 1, to include dedicated funds for Everglades restoration, Springs protection and spending on a broad array of programs and agency expenses.
Florida had a long and distinguished history of scientifically targeting and purchasing the right lands for conservation and recreation purposes since the 1970s, throughout both Republican (Martinez, Bush, Crist) and Democratic (Graham, Chiles) administrations.
Those lands today provide most of the natural resources to support our drinking water supplies, food crops, economic activities and attractive recreational destinations.
The annual funds devoted to Florida Forever had been $300 million, usually issued in bonds paid back by revenue from the documentary stamp tax. Creators of the land programs specifically used the doc stamp tax for its revenue source in order to tie land acquisition to sales in real estate, since all land sales in Florida were assessed a documentary stamp tax.
In 2008, the Legislature discontinued funding for the state’s land conservation program, Florida Forever, citing a poor economy.
Once the economic recovery took hold in Florida, where the state economy in 2013 led the nation in job growth and overall recovery (per University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith in his first quarter economic forecast on March 25, 2014), it was assumed that the state conservation program funds would be replenished.
Since 2010, the Legislature has declined to fund the non-regulatory approach to environmental protection through land acquisition. Funding for the Florida Forever program has not been reinstated.
The Florida Forever program is hugely successful and is the most often-copied land conservation program in the country. It is based on a scientific analysis of which lands in Florida hold the most natural resource value—those that help cleanse water or purify air, create habitat for fish and wildlife, create corridors for the movement of native plants and animals across the landscape and support the water and wildlife necessary to keep our agricultural, tourism and quality of life intact.
Under its conservation programs, the state has protected almost 5 million of its 37.5 million acres. Together with federal conservation lands, almost 9 million acres is in some form of public management, although thousands of those acres belong to the state corrections and management services agencies, military bases and universities, and are not managed for conservation.
The state has identified an additional 2.2 million acres that should be conserved in some form from conversion to more intensive uses. That doesn’t always necessitate outright full-fee purchase of the property, but could be accomplished using a combination of purchase and conservation easements across large corridors of working lands such as ranches to provide habitat and water resource protection.
Dozens of speakers addressing the Constitution Revision Commission during its public hearings voiced their frustration and disappointment with the Legislature’s use of Amendment 1 funds, and appealed for a fix to the issue to accommodate their intent to fund the land acquisition program.
This new Land Acquisition Trust Fund Amendment is likely to pass by at least 75% of the electorate, even with paid opposition. Previous polls taken by the Florida Chamber have shown 78% support statewide, despite opposition from various anti-conservation groups.
Virtually all news outlets endorsed 2014 Amendment 1 and are already writing of their support for a fix that will finally codify the will of Florida voters.
Some counties, including Broward, Palm Beach and St. Lucie, voted more than 80% in support of Amendment 1. Even inland rural counties supported the measure by a vote of at least 40% in support (see map at beginning of this post.)
*This proposal was schedule to go before the Legislative Committee on 11-29-17 but has been postponed. Chances are it will go through in December. It must clear Legislative and General Provisions. You can write members of these committees to support or express concerns at any time: http://flcrc.gov/Committees