Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Court should reject 'solar' amendment

The Florida Supreme Court heard a compelling argument this week that a thinly veiled attempt to use the Florida Constitution to protect the electric monopolies misleads voters into thinking it is something entirely different. The wording of this solar energy measure financed by the utilities is deceptive, and the justices should not allow it to go on the fall ballot. The amendment is an attempt to block the private market for solar in Florida — not to expand consumer choice — and voters should not be confronted with this sneak attack.

The misnamed Consumers for Smart Solar, a special interest group financed by the regulated utilities, is behind a constitutional amendment its supporters say promotes "a sensible, fair and safe expansion of solar energy" in Florida. The measure does no such thing. It merely cements into the Constitution the antimarket restrictions that already exist in state law and keeps the market for solar effectively closed, too expensive for the general public.

The issue before the court is a narrow one: Does the proposed amendment deal with a single subject, and is the summary that would appear on the ballot clear enough for voters to make an informed decision? By lumping energy, regulatory and tax policy into a single question, the ballot summary stretches the limit of the single-subject test. The real problem, though, is the measure is grossly misleading, implying it would give Floridians more rights and control over solar than what exists now.

The amendment mentions consumer "rights" and solar "choice," but it doesn't expand either. It merely would enshrine into the Constitution the rights and regulations affecting solar that already exist in state law. Rather than expanding choice for consumers, the measure does the opposite. Giving the electric monopolies the additional constitutional protection for their outdated business models would put Florida even further behind in the use of renewable energies. That's why the industry has spent nearly $7 million on the measure, which came about in reaction to a ballot proposal conceived by environmentalists that would have truly brought competition to the solar market. That competing effort failed to get enough signatures for 2016 and is scheduled to come back in 2018.

In briefs to the court, the power companies have fumbled in trying to explain exactly what their proposal would and would not do. But they concede that the measure enshrines "no policy of any kind," adding that "no action is required by any state or local regulatory authority." So how does establishing a right and a regulatory framework for solar that already exists move the ball at all? This is varnish disguised as paint. So manufactured is the amendment that a state-required analysis found the measure "will not require any change in current or anticipated state and local regulation or taxation of solar energy in Florida."

The merits of the amendment and the implications of putting energy policy under the state Constitution are not before the court. Those are issues for the voters to decide. The justices, though, have an obligation to ensure that any amendment put to the electorate is factual, fair and instructive enough for voters to make an informed decision. This proposal fails that test.

Comments
Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Editorial: The Catholic Church’s proper response to Pennsylvania scandal

Forceful words are coming from the pope’s pen as well as pulpits around Tampa Bay: The sexual abuse of minors, which proliferated for decades within the Roman Catholic Church, were not merely sins but crimes whose repercussions are still being felt b...
Published: 08/20/18
Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Editorial: Did Rick Scott’s wallet affect his epiphany on rail line?

Within weeks of taking office in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott made one of the worst decisions of his administration and refused $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. Within months of leaving office, the governor...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Editorial: Hillsborough has a place among growing number of governments suing opioid makers

Local governments across the land can find plenty of reasons to go after the drug industry over the crisis of opioid addiction.Hillsborough County can find more reasons than most.• In 2016, the county led the state with 579 babies born addicted to dr...
Published: 08/17/18
Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

Editorial: Here’s what needs to be done to stop algae blooms

The environmental crisis in South Florida has fast become a political crisis. Politicians in both parties are busy blaming one another for the waves of toxic algae blooms spreading out from Lake Okeechobee and beyond, fouling both coasts and damaging...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/20/18
Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

Editorial: Journalists are friends of democracy, not the enemy

It is real news that the Hillsborough County School District said this week it will accelerate testing for lead in drinking water and release the results after the Tampa Bay Times reported testing would take years and that until we asked families wer...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18

Bumping into GOP cowardice on guns

One small island of sanity in the generally insane ocean of American gun culture is the near-complete federal ban on civilian possession of fully automatic weapons — machine guns.The nation got a bitter taste last year of what we’d be facing on a reg...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

Editorial: Vaccinations are safe way to prevent measles

The revelation that three people in Pinellas County have contracted the measles virus should be a wake-up call to everyone to get vaccinated if they haven’t been — and to implore parents to immunize their kids. Contagious diseases such as measles can...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

Editorial: Habitat for Humanity still has questions to answer about selling mortgages

A good reputation can vanish overnight, which is why Habitat for Humanity of Hills-borough County made a smart decision by announcing it would seek to buy back 12 mortgages it sold to a Tampa company with a history of flipping properties. The arrange...
Published: 08/14/18
Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

Editorial: Vote — or a minority of the electorate will decide your future without you

40%of Americans who were eligible to vote for president in 2016 just didn’t bother. That number dwarfs the portion of all eligible voters who cast a ballot for President Donald Trump — 27.6 percent — or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton, 28.8 percent...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Editorial: Why stand your ground has to go

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe made a reasonable decision to charge Michael Drejka with manslaughter in last month’s deadly Clearwater convenience store parking lot confrontation. The shooting, which erupted over use of a handicap parkin...
Published: 08/13/18