Sunday, July 15, 2018

Constitutional amendments

In 2012, more than 200,000 would-be voters in the November general election gave up because they encountered long lines. Analysts blamed the long lines on a lengthy ballot that included 11 constitutional amendments that took time for voters to decide. This year, that is less of a problem. Only four constitutional amendments will confront voters. Of the four, Amendment 2 has garnered the most attention, while Amendment 1 has become a target for environmentalists. Amendments 3 and 5 have drawn little attention, but would have an economic impact.

Amendment 1: Solar:

This measure ostensibly establishes the right for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property. Yet the measure goes on to assert that others shouldn't be asked to "subsidize" those consumers with solar. Translation: customers choosing solar are on their own. Critics of the amendment, like the Florida League of Women Voters, call it a "wolf in sheep's clothing" that would allow utilities to increase fees on those who use solar. Former President Al Gore called it "phony-baloney." Even actor Mark Ruffalo has weighed in, saying it "would kill solar in the Sunshine State." In a dissent of a decision upholding the measure, Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente said the amendment "favors the very electric utilities who are the proponents of the amendment." The pro-utility group backing the measure has a 10-1 edge in contributions over its opponents, with Duke Energy kicking in $5.7 million in support. Jim Kallinger, co-chair of Consumers for Smart Solar, said the measure helps protect electric customers from scams, but it's not clear why that is.

Amendment 2: Medical marjuana: 

This ballot measure could make Florida the 26th state to legalize full-strength medical marijuana for patients with cancer, epilepsy and a host of other conditions. Florida already has a medical marijuana program, but it provides a strain of the drug that's low in THC - the chemical that causes a euphoric high. Gov. Rick Scott also signed a law that allows doctors to recommend full-strength medical marijuana for patients within one year of death. There's big money support behind the amendment, much of it from Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, whose firm has spent $2.7 million to get the amendment on the ballot and has funded some statewide radio ads. Local legislative support includes Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, ."Floridians suffering from debilitating conditions will have access to treatments that may improve their quality of life," Brandes said. But the amendment has powerful opponents, such as a group called Drug Free Florida Committee, which has spent about $2 million on TV advertising, thanks to hefty donations from St. Petersburg developer Mel Sembler and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is supporting this group with contributions from his re-election campaign. "I just see too many opportunities for abuse," Latvala said. "I'm concerned that the Constitution is permanent. I just think that that's a big risk we're talking about with this amendment." A recent poll by the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows 73 percent likely voters support the amendment, putting it well above the 60 percent threshold required to enshrine it the Constitution.

Amendment 3: Tax exemption for disabled first responders: 

This measure establishes a new property tax exemption for firefighters , law enforcement officers, medics and correctional officers who are permanently disabled by an injury suffered in the line of duty. If approved by voters, state lawmakers would then decide on whether to give a full or partial tax exemption. It could only be applied to their primary home. It's unclear how many would be eligible, so how much it would cost cities and counties lost tax revenue is not known.

Amendment 5: Property tax exemption for low-income, long-term residents who are seniors: 

If voters approve this measure, seniors with a household income of less than $20,000 a year might benefit. Current state law allows cities and counties to grant a tax break that's equal to the home's assessed value to qualifying seniors, as long as the home isn't worth more than $250,000. If 60 percent of voters approve Amendment 5, this measure would extend the exemption even if the value exceeds $250,000. The tax exemption wouldn't automatically be approved. It would then be up to the individual cities and counties assessing the property tax to approve the exemption. But as with Amendment 3, it would mean a loss of tax revenue for cities and counties if granted.

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