The sanctity of Florida’s Constitution is violated when we seek to fill it with “feel good” amendments that are often vague, duplicative, and trigger unintended consequences. Such amendments are why we have a Florida Constitution addressing pigs, high-speed trains, funding for radios, and the taxation of boat storage facilities. Certainly, all of these topics are important, but they do not belong in a constitution. For this reason, the CRC should reject Proposal 23, which promotes additional, and potentially frivolous, environmental litigation.
As a former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I had the privilege of working with the sponsor of CRC Proposal 23 to identify restoration projects designed to reduce harmful algal blooms and freshwater discharges in Martin County. She was a terrific partner and her efforts to improve Florida’s environment are genuine and appreciated. However, this proposed amendment to allow an individual to disregard our environmental laws and place environmental decision-making in Florida’s courts (which were named last month as the No. 1 “judicial hellhole” in the country) is not the answer.
Current law already allows affected citizens to be involved in development permits and to take legal action to stop any person or company from “violating any laws, rules, or regulations for the protection of the air, water, and other natural resources of the state.” A constitutional amendment creating another right to sue is not the purpose of a constitution and would add to the litany of vague and duplicative amendments in our constitution.
Environmental restoration could also be jeopardized by this proposed amendment and would certainly be an unintended consequence. For example, communities served by septic tanks along the Indian River Lagoon and our springs have recognized that septic tanks are contributing to the degradation of those water bodies. Many of those communities are now investing in new or expanded central wastewater treatment systems to improve our springs and important watersheds. But, those new wastewater treatment systems are a source of “pollution.” Regretfully, this proposed amendment gives a disgruntled homeowner not wanting to give up his or her septic tank another litigation avenue to block a new wastewater treatment system.
Restoration, not litigation, should be our rallying cry.
The last time the CRC convened in 1997-98, they too considered a similar proposal regarding vague environmental rights, and appropriately decided not to advance the proposal.
The CRC committee now considering Proposal 23 would be wise to follow suit.
Florida’s Constitution is a sacred document, and is no place for feel-good amendments like CRC Proposal 23.
Herschel Vinyard is former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.