Voters to Decide 4 Constitutional Amendments

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    Floridians go to the polls on Tuesday, November 8, and will decide four statewide constitutional amendments that require a supermajority of 60% of the vote.

    No Means Yes

    Amendment 1 is The Florida State Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use Initiative.

    A vote “for” Amendment 1 supports adding a section to the state constitution giving Florida residents the right to own or lease solar power equipment for personal use (which they have now) while enacting constitutional protection for any state or local law ensuring residents who do not produce solar energy can abstain from subsidizing its production.

    A vote “against” opposes constitutionalizing the right to own or lease solar equipment and the protection of laws preventing subsidization of solar energy, thereby leaving personal use of solar power protected as a right by state statute and not the constitution.

    Consumers for Smart Solar supporters argue that Amendment 1 will guarantee the right of Florida residents to produce their own solar energy, will protect every Florida consumer including those who do not produce their own solar energy, and addresses undesirable (to utility companies) solar business practices like “third-party leasing.” It will encourage expansion of solar power by providing explicit constitutional rights to solar energy production, and will treat consumers fairly by preventing them from being forced to subsidize solar energy.

    In third party leasing, the lessee pays a fixed monthly fee unrelated to the amount of generated power, or purchases all the electricity produced by a solar unit.

    Opponents say Amendment 1 has almost exclusive financial backing from public utilities, will extend their control over solar production while limiting customer solar production, will potentially prohibit the practice of “net” metering, creates a monopoly to keep entities other than large utilities from leasing solar panels to homes and businesses, and is unnecessary and misleading because it will provide rights and protections already afforded Florida residents.

    Net metering connects solar panels to a public utility grid to transfer surplus power, allowing customers to offset the cost drawn from the utility.

    Most significantly, Amendment 1 critics charge that proponents included the provision protecting the right to solar energy production to make the amendment look pro-solar even though it reduces its use. This is crucial, as the controversial wording only gained approval from the Florida State Supreme Court by a 4 to 3 decision. Consumers for Smart Solar, in fact, recently received the first “Deceptive Language Award” from The Clear Language Institute, for Amendment 1’s use of “deceptive language to purposely mislead voters” to thinking it supports expanding solar energy when the opposite is true to benefit big utility companies.

    As of late September, Consumers for Smart Solar raised roughly $21.5 million, with $17.8 million from the state’s four largest public utility companies: Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power, and Tampa Electric Company. This is ten times the amount of the opposition group, Floridians for Solar Choice.

    Florida public opinion polls show vast solar power support, as does the overwhelming victory of Amendment 4 in the August 2016 primary with 73% of the vote, to provide property tax exemptions for solar equipment.

    To reiterate, if you wish to expand solar power options, vote NO on Amendment 1.

    Reefer Madness

    Amendment 2 is The Florida Medical Marijuana Legislative Initiative.

    A “yes” vote supports legalizing medical marijuana for individuals with specific debilitating diseases or conditions as determined by a licensed state physician.

    A “no” vote opposes this, keeping the current more limited medical marijuana program in place.

    The legal language explicitly allows medical marijuana to provide treatment of patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s and Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Amendment 2 will allow licensed physicians to certify patients for medical marijuana after diagnosing them with some “other debilitating medical condition of the same kind or class as comparable to those enumerated.” It will require the Department of Health to regulate marijuana production and distribution centers, and issue identification cards for patients and caregivers.

    The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, allows physicians to prescribe non-smoking cannabis low in THC to qualified patients in Florida. The law limits medical marijuana use in Florida, but did not fully legalize it, as opposed to Amendment 2 that will for specific diseases.

    Medical marijuana was last on the ballot in 2014, when it received 57.5% of the vote but failed because it did not meet the 60% threshold for constitutional amendments. Although the 2014 and 2016 initiatives wish to legalize medical marijuana, the 2016 measure clarifies requirements and parental consent for minors, defines what “debilitating” illnesses qualify, addresses concerns regarding caregivers by making it clear doctors would be immune from malpractice for negligently prescribing marijuana, and limits how many patients a caregiver can treat.

    There are medical marijuana votes on the 2016 ballot in nine other states.

    Tax Exempt

    Amendment 3 is The Florida Tax Exemptions for Disabled First Responders.

    A “yes” vote supports providing property tax exemptions to first responders permanently disabled in the line of duty; a “no” opposes this. Currently, this is applicable only to surviving spouses of first responders or members of the military killed in the line of duty.

    Amendment 5 is The Florida Property Tax Exemptions for Senior Citizens.

    A “yes” vote supports eligible senior citizens with certain property tax exemptions and allows home values to remain fixed after application for the exemption, even if the value later exceeds the designated threshold; a “no” opposes this proposal.

    Amendment 5 will provide a tax break for homes valued at less than $250,000 owned by individuals over the age of 65 who have lived in the home at least 25 years. The exemption would be available to permanently disabled veterans age 65 or older, and surviving spouses of veterans or first responders who died in the line of duty. Seniors will keep their tax exemptions even if their home value in the future exceeds $250,000.

    Opponents say that Amendment 5 will decrease property tax revenue to support quality education and unfairly provide lower tax rates to certain citizens based solely on age and duration of occupancy.

     

    Gary Mooney