In Florida, there are four ballot initiatives up for vote this November. Ballot initiatives are proposed amendments to the Constitution of the State of Florida. These amendments are important because it is very difficult to repeal them, and all future Florida laws must comply with their directives. Ballot initiatives must win by a supermajority of 60% of the vote to pass.
Read on for our quick guide on all four initiatives on the ballot this November.
Amendment 1 - Florida Solar-Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use Initiative
The right to produce your own solar energy is protected already by State statue but not by the Constitution. Customers who install solar panels generate their own energy to reduce their power bills, and utility companies credit those customers for the excess solar energy they produce through a process called net metering. Amendment 1 would provide two changes:
1. It would make the right to produce solar energy a constitutionally protected right rather than a statutorily protected right.
2. It would protect residents who do not produce solar energy from being required to subsidize those who do.
The second provision of Amendment 1 has become controversial because critics believe that utility companies will use the language in this provision to end net metering and charge fees for solar-energy production. They argue that energy companies are using consumer protection as a pretext to prevent increased solar-energy production.
Supporters counter that the amendment protects all consumers --- those who produce solar energy and those who do not or cannot. Supporters are particularly concerned with potential unfair business practices of “third-party leasing” companies that may take advantage of subsidies and net metering.
Amendment 1 is part of a much larger issue. Our current model of power generation grants monopolies to a few heavily regulated energy utilities that install and maintain the “grid” infrastructure necessary to deliver energy to their consumers. Solar power allows customers to produce some of their own power without the regulations imposed on utilities, but most still need power from the grid at night and in poor weather. The big question is: If everyone has a solar panel, who pays for the grid?
NOTE: There is breaking news on this issue. An audio recording from the James Madison Institute was leaked recently in which the policy director, Sal Nuzzo, can be heard calling the amendment "an incredibly savvy maneuver" that appeals to pro-solar voters but "would completely negate anything [pro-solar interests] would try to do, either legislatively or constitutionally, down the road." The story is still developing. Read the Forbes article here.
The top opposing funders include SACE Action Fund, Barbara Stiefel Trust, and Conservatives for Energy Freedom.
The top supporting funders include Duke Energy, Florida Power and Light Company, and Tampa Electric Company.
Amendment 2 - Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization
This amendment is the successor to the medical marijuana initiative that failed to pass in 2014. The 2014 initiative received 57.62% of the vote, falling short of the supermajority threshold by about 169,000 votes. Currently, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act allows certain qualified patients to use specific strains of low-THC, non-smoked marijuana products. Amendment 2 would allow patients with certain debilitating diseases to use any kind of marijuana with a doctor’s prescription.
The authors of the 2016 initiative altered it to address some of the criticisms of the 2014 initiative. These changes include:
- The new initiative only qualifies patients with certain debilitating diseases, such as AIDS, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, PTSD, and "other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated.” The previous initiative qualified a much broader class of patients.
- The 2016 version clarifies that parental consent is required for patients under 18.
- The new initiative limits the number of patients a doctor can prescribe marijuana too, and it allows malpractice claims against prescribing doctors.
Most people are familiar with the arguments for and against medical marijuana. Briefly, critics argue that marijuana needs to be thoroughly tested before using it as a medication, and that it is too dangerous to legalize in this manner. Supporters argue that marijuana has recognized medical value and that it is less dangerous than many other legal drugs, such as amphetamines and opiates.
The top opposing funder is Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
The top supporting funder is John Morgan, founding partner of the Morgan & Morgan law firm.
Amendment 3 - Tax Exemption for Disabled First Responders
This initiative proposes a property-tax exemption for disabled first responders.
Opponents argue that carving out niche tax exemptions for different groups of people shifts the burden of paying for schools and local government onto everyone else, and that it is not appropriate to give tax exemptions based on a person’s chosen career.
Supporters argue that disabled police officers and firefighters risk their lives for their community and that they should be rewarded by the community for their sacrifice.
Amendment 3 has passed the Florida House and Senate unanimously.
Amendment 5 - Property-Tax Exemptions for Senior Citizens
Amendment 5 provides property-tax breaks for low-income senior citizens who have lived in their homes for over 25 years. The intent is to prevent seniors from being forced to leave their homes because of rising property values.
Like Amendment 3, opponents argue that it is unfair to shift the property-tax burden from seniors onto other segments of the population and that it is not appropriate to give tax exemptions based on age.
Supporters argue that the initiative would give needed tax relief to low-income seniors who would otherwise be unable to afford to stay in their homes.
For additional information on these amendments, including arguments for and against, check out Ballotpedia's Florida ballot page.