TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Florida lawmakers violated the state Constitution when they passed a measure this year that would largely prevent the possession, breeding and sale of certain types of non-native reptiles, a circuit judge has ruled.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper said the Constitution gives the power to approve such regulations to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“The 2020 amendment (by the Legislature) regulates wild animal life — it prescribes the manner and purposes for which certain captive non-native species may be possessed and used — and contradicts the commission’s regulations … authorizing and regulating the manner and purposes for which those same species may be used,” Cooper wrote in a 12-page decision last month. “Therefore, under clear precedent and the plain language of the Florida Constitution, the 2020 amendment is unconstitutional.”

The United States Association of Reptile Keepers’ Florida Chapter and six individual plaintiffs filed the case in July to challenge the constitutionality of a law that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed June 29 and a related executive order issued the next day by Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton.

The plaintiffs alleged the Legislature overstepped its authority in passing the law to crack down on species such as tegu lizards, green iguanas and reticulated pythons.

Amid the litigation, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission started a rule-making process to address the species.

Cooper’s decision does not halt that process, which includes a series of workshops that started this week.

The legislation and the rulemaking process come amid broader state efforts to restrict or, in some cases, eradicate non-native species that officials say threaten Florida wildlife and even such things as roads and seawalls.

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