TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott had the legal authority to veto money to pay residents for healthy citrus trees that the state cut down in an effort to eradicate citrus canker, but some state Supreme Court justices admonished him Thursday for doing so.
While the court threw out a petition filed by Broward and Lee County residents attempting to overturn Scott’s veto of a budget item to compensate them for lost trees, three of the seven justices expressed dismay that Scott took the action and that residents still haven’t been compensated more than a decade after their trees were cut down.
“These petitioners have the right to full compensation. The time has come for the State to pay up,” Justice Barbara Pariente wrote an opinion in which Justice Peggy Quince agreed. Both reluctantly agreed to dismiss the petition because the governor was within his rights.
Justice Fred Lewis disagreed with dismissing the petition and said it was “a sad day for Florida citizens.” He said they have a constitutional right to be compensated when government takes their property, and the court failed them for not overturning Scott’s veto.
“This is not a game and our citizens should not be toyed with as if a yo-yo, and yet that is exactly what this veto accomplishes. Now, with the opportunity to stop this ten-year-game of yo-yo, this Court abdicates its responsibility.”
Canker is a bacterial disease spread by wind that blemishes a tree’s fruit and can cause it to drop prematurely. In 2000, the state ordered the destruction of all citrus trees, even healthy ones, within 1,900 feet of an infected tree. More than 16 million trees were destroyed during a six-year-program, including 865,000 residential trees. For compensation, the state gave each homeowner a $100 Wal-Mart gift card for the first tree killed and $55 cash for each subsequent tree, but thousands complained their trees were worth much more. Homeowners filed class-action lawsuits against the state.
This year, the Legislature approved $37.4 million for the Broward and Lee county residents, whose lawsuits had already run their legal course. Scott vetoed the money, saying there was still pending litigation — a point that Pariente and Lewis called misinformed and disingenuous.
A spokesman for Scott said there are still unsettled lawsuits filed by residents elsewhere in Florida, and that’s why he vetoed the money.
“It is unfortunate what happened to these Floridians over a decade ago and Governor Scott sincerely understands their concern. Due to ongoing litigation, the $37.4 million in the budget was not approved. We are hopeful that all litigation regarding this issue will be completely resolved, allowing the issue to be addressed comprehensively across the state,” John Tupps wrote in an email.