By Jim Saunders / News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE --- Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Transportation are urging a circuit judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new law that overhauls the operation of expressways in Miami-Dade County.
With Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper scheduled to hold a hearing next week, lawyers for DeSantis and the department filed briefs calling for the judge to toss out the case filed by the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority. The case challenges a law that eliminated the authority and replaced it with a new entity known as the Greater Miami Expressway Agency.
The briefs, filed Monday, argue in part that the authority doesn’t have the legal authority to pursue the case because it has been eliminated.
“As a matter of law, MDX (the authority) no longer exists,” said a brief filed by the Department of Transportation. “It has no board members, owns no property, no longer has the legal authority to operate the state expressways and all assets, employees and contracts have been transferred to GMX (the new agency). The court should dismiss this action because MDX no longer exists and does not possess the capacity to maintain this lawsuit.”
The authority filed the lawsuit in May, shortly after the Legislature gave final approval to the bill, which drew heavy debate from Miami-Dade lawmakers. DeSantis signed the measure into law July 3.
Attorneys for the authority allege that the measure is unconstitutional, in part, because it infringes on the local authority of Miami-Dade County. They said a 1956 constitutional amendment prevented the Legislature from enacting laws that were applicable only in Miami-Dade, such as the new expressways law.
“By virtue of a constitutional amendment adopted by Florida’s electors in 1956, Miami-Dade County enjoys a unique relationship with the state,” authority attorneys argued in a July 3 filing. “No other Florida county, even other home rule counties, enjoys the same local powers or the same protection from legislative interference in local affairs.”
Cooper is scheduled to hold a hearing July 25 to consider issues such as the motions to dismiss and the authority’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the law, according to documents posted on the Leon County clerk of courts website.
One of the issues in the case has involved operation of the expressway system during the transition from the authority to the new agency.
But Cooper issued an order Wednesday that said he would put off a ruling on a potential temporary restraining order because the parties had agreed that money held in the name of the authority or the trustee of what is known as a “trust indenture” could be used to make payments to employees, contractors, vendors and bondholders.