Florida lawmakers flout the law in failing to protect sensitive land, springs

The US Supreme Court ruling for Citizens United in the Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission case in January 2010 began the downfall of fair elections. This ruling, which legitimatized unlimited funds in political contributions, amounted to making bribery legal.

Citizens United was an attack on democracy and opened a broad legal path to corruption in government. The transparency that was expected by the justices was shadowed by dark money, with donors camouflaged to hide their identities.

The excuse given by some justices in this decision was that limits on donations constituted limits on free speech, but the result gave an overwhelming advantage to the rich. Now we have a democracy of the wealthy few and a disenfranchisement of the majority poor.

Not to be outdone by the previous court, our flawed and heavily politically biased Supreme Court today is continuing the role of flouting the will of the nation in overturning Roe v. Wade and by taking power from the Environmental Protection Agency to give to a politically dominated Congress.

More Messages from the Springs Heartland:

Unconstitutional laws are hampering our fight for clean and healthy waters

Florida provides only the ‘illusion of protection’ for our springs

Once again, money and greed won the day over the environment in Tallahassee

The trickle-down effect we see in our Florida Legislature may explain why elected and appointed officials no longer seem to care about the desires of the people they represent. This disenfranchisement goes hand in hand with the growing usurpation of power by state leaders.

Immediately they are elected, officials begin the campaign for re-election at the expense of doing the job they are supposed to do. And when these bought-and-paid-for politicians are not campaigning for the next election or appointment, they are busy taking power from the local authorities to vest upon themselves.

An egregious example of lawmakers’ flouting of the law is when they ignored the 2014 landslide vote of the Water and Land Conservation Amendment (known as Amendment 1), which outlined funds for acquisition and restoration of Florida’s conservation and recreation lands. Nearly 75% of the people wanted this to be followed, yet most of their representatives paid no attention and used the funds for unrelated purposes.

Environmental groups want to see Amendment 1 proceeds restore full funding to the Florida Forever land conservation.  Its list of projects include protecting land near Fanning Springs, pictured here.

Environmental groups want to see Amendment 1 proceeds restore full funding to the Florida Forever land conservation. Its list of projects include protecting land near Fanning Springs, pictured here.

A lawsuit brought by environmental groups was defeated when the judge ruled that the money claimed was already spent. This is akin to Judge E. Gary Early’s indescribably ridiculous justification for helping dry up Silver Springs because the water was there.

When we see judges as well as lawmakers with this attitude that strips our unique water resources of their importance of existence, well, we know we live in Florida.

Another Tallahassee power-grab occurred after Orange County adopted the “Right to Clean Water/Rights of Nature” County Charter Amendment” protective of their waterways. The Florida Legislature immediately pre-empted the ability of local authorities for home rule. As a result, environmental groups sued but were overruled by a judge who said, in essence, that when state and local laws conflict, the advantage is given to the state.

Among the many examples of decision makers rejecting the will of the public, perhaps the most pathetic of all was when the Suwannee River Water Management District board of directors chose to disregard 20,000 letters opposing the renewal of a pumping permit for Seven Springs Water Company near High Springs.

A water bottling facility near High Springs.

A water bottling facility near High Springs.

At this infamous meeting the roles were reversed and the board of directors, which is supposed to counsel and advise the district as well as conduct the meeting, were the ones who were told by the lawyers what they could and could not do. By allowing the lawyers to conduct the meeting, the board chairperson abdicated the board’s responsibility for protecting the public’s interests in managing their water.

These examples above define Florida’s current decision makers and managers of our waters who are inadequate and unacceptable. There seems to be little indication that things will change as long as Citizens United remains law.

This is why it is so important to bring the Florida Right to Clean and Healthy Waters Amendment before voters and adopt it into our state constitution if given the opportunity.

Jim Tatum is a member of Our Santa Fe River and lives in Tampa. This column is part of The Sun’s Messages from the Springs Heartland series. More pieces from the series can be found at bit.ly/springsheartland.

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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Jim Tatum: Water resources suffer from Florida’s failed leadership

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