Senator Want To Block Tax-Funded Litigation Against The State
Senators could soon be voting on a measure prohibiting certain organizations from using public funds for litigation against the state. The proposal’s critics worry about unintended consequences.
Governmental agencies, branches, and officials don’t always get along. And when dueling press conferences and television commercials can’t settle things, there’s always the courts. But Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) is uncomfortable with tax-funded organizations running up big court bills duking it out with each other.
“The hardworking people of the state of Florida want to know that their tax payer dollars are being spent for the public good,” Stargel says, “and not on frivolous lawsuits against the state in which the state has to spend more tax payer dollars to defend them.”
She uses a school board’s appropriation as an example.
“Those state dollars that we appropriated them they use to be a member of an association, then a situation happens where they’re using the state dollars from that association to turn around and sue the very individual that appropriated them those state dollars,” Stargel says. “It’s tax dollars fighting against tax dollars.”
So she wants bar non-profits receiving more than 25 percent of their funding through tax dollars from using that money on litigation against the state. But the proposal created confusion, and it drew criticism. Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) and Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner both spoke against the measure.
Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) calls the bill heavy handed because it imposes restrictions on how local governments use the money raised in their own backyards, and he says it doesn’t even achieve Stargel’s stated goals.
“You’re saying that they can only not sue the state, so we’re not stopping tax dollars against tax dollars, because Broward County can still sue Dade County, Hillsborough County can still sue Duval County, so we’re not really stopping that,” Smith says. “We’re just saying you can’t sue us. Even if you’re not using our dollars per se, you can’t sue us.”
But Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) spoke in favor of the measure, saying its restrictions are limited and reasonable.
“I was a superintendent of schools, so was Sen. Montford. I can remember, I think, that our medium sized school district had six or seven or eight million dollars a year in non-operating revenues,” Gaetz says. “It didn’t come from any tax payer dollars, it came from vending machines and other stuff that was non-operating. I guess if we wanted to, our school board could have set aside some of that money in case we were angry and wanted to sue the state.”
But some of Stargel’s fellow Republicans have concerns. Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) says the bill’s public funds provision is too broad, but he voted in support. But Sen. Thad Altman (R-Cape Canaveral) joined the committee’s Democrats in voting no. He says limiting access to the courts will deny valid legal actions. The bill has passed it’s committees, but it’s not on the agenda for the Senate’s next floor session on Tuesday.