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Nancy Smith

Amendment 1 Lawsuit Has History Against It

June 29, 2015 - 8:00am
Bob Graham and David Guest
Bob Graham and David Guest

Environmental groups looking for Amendment 1 redemption from the courts probably shouldn't get their hopes up.

If ever a lawsuit looked like a colossal waste of everybody's time and money, it's this one -- filed last week by Earthjustice on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

These folks have about as much chance of compelling lawmakers to comply with their interpretation of Amendment 1 as they do finding Sasquatch in the Big Cypress National Preserve.

Earthjustice attorneys certainly know their business. So I'm going to assume they're familiar with Graham v. Haridopolos, a precedent-setting case that slogged through the state court system under various names for nearly six years. It ended badly for the plaintiffs in January 2013, when the Florida Supreme Court ruled in the Legislature's favor.

I Beg to DifferIt was former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham who in 2007 sued to establish the Board of Governors as the body responsible for setting tuition. Graham had helped lead a citizen initiative that amended the Florida Constitution to create the board in 2002. The intent was to curtail political interference with the universities.

The plaintiff list was impressive. Besides Graham, it included former U.S. Rep. Lou Frey and former Florida State University President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte. Nevertheless, despite appeal after appeal, they lost at every level. 

Finally, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected an argument that would have allowed the Board of Governors to set tuition rates without limits, saying the Legislature could restrain the board or even set the rates itself. It resolved a key question about the board’s power under the 2002 constitutional amendment that created the panel, replacing the Board of Regents. Graham had argued the BOG could set tuition rates without interference from lawmakers.

The Legislature has granted the board more power in recent years, particularly through the state’s “differential tuition” law, which allows increases of up to 15 percent, but with a limit on how that money can be used.

Good luck finding much written about the outcome outside of the attorney general's office. The Miami Herald was one of the few state newspapers to cover the Supreme Court ruling with more than a brief buried inside. Imagine, if you will, the lavish, celebratory front-page court coverage the media would have given the story, had the Supremes ruled for the plaintiffs.

Writing for the majority (there was no minority), Justice Barbara Pariente said the Legislature’s authority to control how state money is spent was tied to the ability to raise money to pay for those expenses -- including tuition.

"Nothing within the language of article IX, section 7, of the Florida Constitution indicates an intent to transfer this quintessentially legislative power to the Board of Governors," Pariente wrote.

At the circuit court level, the case was made as plain as it gets:

Graham's attorney Robin Gibson argued, "It's fundamental to our form of government that legislative powers are limited by the Constitution, and the will of the people as expressed in the Constitution is to prevail over the Legislature. We contend that a simple reading of the amendment shows that the people have given the full power to govern the university system to the Board of Governors."

Chief Judge Charles Francis didn't agree. In his 22-page ruling, he said the plaintiffs' premise that tuition and fees are not state funds and inference that "the Legislature has improperly appropriated monies 'from the treasury' that are not 'state funds'" is legally incorrect.

The bottom line here is, the Legislature has authority over the state budget, how money is appropriated and where it goes. It's a bedrock in the Constitution. Any effort to use the courts to do otherwise is unlikely to be met with success.

Yes, Amendment 1 is in the Constitution, just as the establishment of the Board of Governors through a constitutional amendment in 2002. But Earthjustice attorney David Guest will have a far tougher job making his case for Amendment 1 than even Graham's attorney did. “The constitutional amendment is clear” Guest said last week. But that's where many will beg to differ.

The undoing of Florida's Water and Land Legacy is the ballot language. As one attorney at the Capitol told me, "It's broad enough to drive a Mack truck through." The amendment's creators gave lawmakers enormous latitude -- it's almost carte blanche -- by not including, say, a percentage of proceeds that must go specifically for land purchase. Language is lofty and evocative, but virtually open-ended.

Remember, Graham's suit took nearly six years to conclude, with unhappiness every step of the way. And in the end, universities got most of what they wanted outside the courtroom -- by means of reason. By working with lawmakers.

Challenging the Legislature in a lawsuit is flashy, but it isn't the way to go here. The Graham suit is a telling precedent.

 

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

These legislators do the bidding of Big Sugar. They care not what the people want. Throw the bums out.

The "MAJOR MESSAGE" here is: UNINFORMED voters are prey to Lobbiests & Legislators (and their minion & toady bureaucracies) who prepare and write ballot "Amendments" specifically to control how they want UNINFORMED voters (who mostly never actually read anything but simple menus) to be "herded" into a voting result that the voter cannot even imagine (or even have a "clue") of the unintended results. These UNINFORMED voters have no educated reference to "things that are seen & things that are unseen"... (SO, how about we bring into America (via "Illegal Amnesty") THIRTY MILLION PLUS (30,000,000+) NEW UNINFORMED voters ???)

....and, by the way,...the "actions", by use of manipulative "Amendments", of these Legislators & Lobbyiests (described above) are ALSO insideous in that it also serves the purposes of Legislators fearful of being pulled off of the "government mammary", for not doing their jobs, by voters who are "wise to their self-serving machinations"...

This Legislature actions is a direct slap in the face to the voters. More than 75% of voters-4.2 million -approved the clear INTENT of Amendment 1. The bill required that 1/3 of the tax revenue on real estate documents be dedicated to environmental issues-including land purchases and restoration. The initial estimates that monies available for land was put at $648 million.Instead, the Legislature allocated a total of merely $ 55 million, with less than $18 million for Florida Forever.Our 'Representatives' literally decided to ignore the voters' wishes-the monies to be be spent on environmental concerns were instead spent on salaries and operating expenses-and new vehicles for wildlife officers. Prior to this session, these expenses were funded from other parts of the budget. Talk about bait-and switch ! While the lawmakers' decisions may be technically 'legal', this gainsaying of the will of the people is yet another instance in which the Republican Lawmakers have demonstrated that their unilateral hubris supersedes all else. The people of this state have no one to blame other than themselves. They elected-and RE-elected- most of these self-serving officials.How many more instances of such legislative arrogance is necessary for the citizens of Florida to realize the importance of voting in their local and mid-term elections?? I hope this latest high-handed defiance of the voters' expressed will backfire on these politicians ; change will occur only if ALL registered voters cast a ballot to repudiate the current "representatives". Jiggery-pokery thrives in the miasma of the halls-and back rooms- of Tally.

I agree with you with 1 major exception. All legal citizen residents of Florida should be allowed to and encouraged to vote. There are currently about 1.5 million, yes million, ex-felons who have served their time and still have no basic civil rights. Because Florida does everything possible to restrict them from voting. Because Florida only restores those rights to those who can hire lawyers, pay fees and no doubt, make the neccessary political campaigns. There are about 6 million total unrestored ex-felons without basic civil rights, mostly in southern states. A person who has no voice in the goverment that rules over them are not citizens, they are subjects!

The simple 'solution' Dean is: DON'T COMMIT FELONIES ! Be a LAW ABIDING citizen and don't prey upon your fellow citizens ! It is NOT Florida that 'restricts' felons from voting, it is their own anti-social behavior. PERIOD ! (Many of those "6 million ex-felons" garnering your concern were 'shipped' to America on Castro's "Mariel Boat Lift"... and NOW guys like you Dean want to see 30,000,000+ Illegal Invaders granted U.S. citizenship). You have NO solutions Dean,..you are merely one of the liberal Democrat ENABLERS. signed, "An 'Old Time' rational, thinking Democrat"

Carpetbgger, you are neither rational, thinking or a democrat. You are a scared little man who enjoys making attacks. Probably because those attacks make you feel better than others. Your entire comment is factully wrong. And your attitude is pathetic.

a personal attack, instead of good debate. You sound like one of those punk inmates from PRotective Custody.

You must be new Bill. Otherwise you would know how often cbreeze posts outrageous comments and attacks anybody who does not conform to his radcal wing-nut political views. On the other hand, I thank you for the check on my atttude. You see, I have answered his statement with truth and he always responds with nonsense. He will post the same extremist BS, knowing it is false, but always treating it as truth. His entire statement is false.

It is my understanding that over $200 million of the Amendment 1 money is being used for salaries. There is no way that that follows the intent of the Amendment.

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
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