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Missy Layfield - Editor

Whew! Theyre Done!

Is there any good news coming out of Tallahassee lately? Anything?

After botching the regular session and failing to do the one thing the Florida constitution demands of them – pass a budget – the Florida Legislature came back to Tallahassee for a special session June 1. The Constitution gives them a maximum of 20 days for a special session. They used 19 of them at an estimated cost of $65,000-$75,000 per day. Thats well over $1 million, of our money, all because they couldnt get their work done.

Every job Ive had in my life has had required duties. If I failed to fulfill those duties, the result was certainly not a no-consequence do-over that cost $1M. No wonder they dont understand us common folk back here working for a living. Their rules are not the same as ours.

There may yet be another special session before the Legislature convenes in January 2016. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether lawmakers need to redraw congressional districts. Remember those Fair District Amendments to the Florida Constitution that voters passed in 2010? Our legislators struggled to create "fair” districts and the courts ruled that they had failed in at least 2 districts. Challengers claim its much more than two districts and would like the whole Congressional map tossed.

Meanwhile, the state Senate district map has also been questioned and a challenge is before a circuit judge now, which could be appealed to the Supreme Court. The prospect of needing voting district maps redrawn just as we approach another election in 2016 is a very real possibility. Sound familiar? It should, because its happened already, just before the 2014 elections.

Sure looks like Legislators do not like voters telling them how to do their jobs. So, they ignore us and happily go to court to fight for their right to ignore the constitution because theyre not the ones paying their legal fees. We are.

Speaking of the Legislature ignoring voter passed constitutional amendments, a lawsuit has already been filed by supporters of Amendment 1, claiming that the new budget misappropriated over $300 million of the money that voters wanted spent for environmental land purchases. Theyre asking the court to state exactly what lawmakers can spend Amendment 1 money on, as our elected officials seem confused on the matter. This year they spent a good chunk of it on staff salaries and operations, rather than spending it on land purchases.

House Speaker Crisafulli claims the lawsuit is politically motivated. Rep. Matt Caldwell says that the amendment itself was political and not about land conservation at all.

75% of Florida voters approved the amendment whose summary stated:

"Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.”

That sound political to you? Me neither.

While our erstwhile Legislature finally passed a budget, our Governor wasted little time in slicing and dicing $461 million out of it, including almost $14M destined for SWFL projects.

The reason given for the veto of $300,000 for a Lovers Key State Park Visitor Center was that it circumvents the DEPs process of prioritization of projects in greatest need of repair or providing highest return on investment. That could be a legit reason for a veto, but its really hard to tell. Lovers Key State Park has NO Visitor Center. No place to gather indoors with a class or view exhibits of the parks flora and fauna – something that most all state parks have in my experience. Lovers Key is one of our local treasures and one of the most visited parks in Florida, welcoming nearly a million visitors last year. Good thing we have the Friends of Lovers Key organization because we cant count on the state to support it.

Scott also slashed a $1M study related to the Big Carlos Bridge, saying it circumvented the Economic Development Transportation-Road Fund evaluation process. Again, valid point? Hard to tell. But this is how infrastructure slowly falls into disrepair. Wait until its in dire need of replacement, then order a study, then wait for it to rise up the list of projects. Imagine our island with only one bridge. Thats how important this is.

I wonder how many of the items included in that $461 worth of vetoes were part of the $300M special interest package added at the last minute to the budget. Or were they just the projects supported by reps and senators that had butted heads with Scott during the contentious session?

The only good news here is that the Legislature has adjourned, hopefully until January, so citizens are safe from their machinations and new oddball interpretations of amendments for a while.

Missy Layfield