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Florida Legislature fights rehearing in conservation case

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Attorneys for the Florida House and Senate urged an appeals court Monday to reject a request for a rehearing in a battle about conservation funding.

The request came after environmental groups last month asked the 1st District Court of Appeal to reconsider a decision that backed the Legislature's handling of money that flows from a 2014 constitutional amendment designed to boost land and water conservation.

The environmental groups, in part, argue that lawmakers improperly diverted money to other expenses, such as agency expenses and salaries.

A Leon County circuit judge ruled in favor of the environmental groups, but the Tallahassee-based appeals court last month overturned that ruling.

The 2014 constitutional amendment required a portion of documentary-stamp taxes to go to the state's Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

In the filing Monday, attorneys for the House and Senate wrote that the appeals court had correctly interpreted how money in the trust fund could be used.

"The court applied the Constitution as written and declined to impose limitations that do not appear in the Constitution -- limitations that the voters never voted to approve," the eight-page filing said.

But in asking for the rehearing, the environmental groups said the appeals court's ruling "imposes no requirement upon the Legislature to acquire, restore and manage any new conservation and recreation lands whatsoever. In short, the court's decision permits the Legislature to continue expending LATF (Land Acquisition Trust Fund) funds to managing existing state lands without acquiring and restoring any new conservation lands. This is simply at odds with the reason citizens take the massive trouble and expense to initiate and adopt an amendment to the Florida Constitution."