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Broward to sue state over citrus canker law

Broward County officials unanimously decided to sue the state to halt the new citrus canker law allowing the widespread resumption of tree cutting near infected trees.

Commissioners voted 8-0 Tuesday to challenge the constitutionally of the law, signed Monday by Gov. Jeb Bush.

The law lets the state resume chopping down healthy citrus trees within 1,900 feet of those infected with canker and allows judges to issue countywide warrants for cutting. It is intended to end legal challenges to the state policy, which had been stalled in the courts for nearly two years.

The lawsuit, to be filed on behalf of residents, will likely be grounded on the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, said Miami-Dade County Attorney Randy Duvall, who talked to Broward attorneys.

"We have an obligation to do everything we can to make sure the constitutional rights of Broward County citizens are protected from unwarranted intrusion," Commissioner Ilene Lieberman said.

Cities joining the lawsuit include Coral Springs, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Plantation, Pompano Beach and possibly Boca Raton. Miami-Dade commissioners have not decided whether to join.

State and citrus industry officials said the lawsuit will delay resumption of the canker eradication measures, allowing the disease to spread, threaten citrus jobs and cost the taxpayers more in legal fees.

Canker can be spread by wind-blown water or by people who unknowingly carry bacteria from tree to tree. It causes brown blemishes on fruit and can cause the fruit to drop prematurely from trees.

Tree owner Ellen Schneider said citrus officials used false information as an excuse to trample civil liberties.

"That's not what this country's about," she said. "That's what communist Cuba is about. And this commission understood that."

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