According to Herschel Vinyard, Jr., Florida Governor Rick Scott’s former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Proposal 23 from the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) needs to be rejected because it does nothing by promote more, “and frivolous, environmental litigation.”
Vinyard, Jr., made his case in an op-ed he wrote that was first published in the Treasure Coast newspaper, TC Palm.
The proposal, which was offered up by Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a Senate President Joe Negron appointee to the commission, is also being challenged by large state business, including the Florida Farm Bureau, who called it “a dangerous broad and vague proposal.”
“Proposal 23, a dangerously broad and vague proposal from the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), is scheduled to be heard and voted on by the Judicial Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 12. Proposal 23 would introduce the “right to a clean and healthful environment” into the Constitution. This may sound like a good idea, but the underlying language in the proposal provides a cause of action for any person to sue any party over virtually anything that could be perceived to impact the “natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment.”–Florida Farm Bureau
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch’s proposal “would amend Florida’s constitution to give Floridians more legal standing when environmental issues arise by establishing a right to a “clean and healthful environment,” and open up a pandora’s box of litigation. (TC Palm)
The proposal would make trial lawyers very happy.
“My concern is that if you look at the Florida Constitution today, all it has in it really is adequate provision,” Thurlow-Lippisch said at a CRC Judicial Committee meeting Tuesday. “I think adequate provision is very vague.”
Here is the Vinyard, Jr. op-ed:
The sanctity of Florida’s Constitution is violated when we seek to fill it with “feel good” amendments that are 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 Constitution Revision Commission should reject Proposal 23, which promotes additional, and potentially frivolous, environmental litigation.
The proposal would provide any Floridian the ability to file suit against any public or private party if they feel their right to a “clean and healthful” environment is threatened.
This would provide automatic standing in court for any citizen to challenge any government entity, business or private citizen — even when that person or entity is in full compliance with valid permits and existing laws.
As a former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I had the privilege of working with the sponsor of Proposal 23, CRC Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 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 number one “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 also could be jeopardized by this proposed amendment, and that 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 now are 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 Constitution Revision Commission convened in 1997-98, it considered a similar proposal regarding vague environmental rights and appropriately decided not to advance the proposal.
The 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 Proposal 23.