Lawmakers seek $100 million for homeowners who lost citrus trees during canker scare
Florida homeowners who lost their beloved citrus trees to the failed canker eradication program 17 years ago could be compensated this year under a $100 million budget request being filed this week by a Miami lawmaker.
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz wants the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to make good on four court rulings ordering the state to pay more than 114,000 homeowners in Broward, Palm Beach, Lee and Orange counties whose citrus trees were cut down between 2000 and 2006 to curb the spread of citrus canker.
State agriculture inspectors deployed crews with chainsaws to chop down 577,253 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state — even if the trees showed no signs of infection.
Outraged property owners representing counties with 94 percent of the lost trees joined five class action lawsuits to seek compensation. In four of the cases, the court ordered the state to pay more than $100 million in judgments, attorneys fees and interest. The fifth case, involving Miami-Dade residents who lost 40 percent of the healthy trees removed in Florida, is still pending.
The budget request filed by Diaz — and a similar one expected to be filed in the Senate by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami — is likely the largest member project to be filed this session in the House. Under new House rules, every budget request made by individual members must be filed and voted on as a separate bill.
Diaz, who chairs the powerful House Commerce Committee, said it is time the state compensate Floridians “whose property was illegally taken through no fault of their own.”
“Anyone who was in Florida for the citrus canker scare knows of someone who had their property taken away and who never received a dime for it,” he told the Herald/Times. “There are tens of thousands of Floridians who were stripped of their citrus trees and are still wondering why the state has not made them whole.” Story here.