Florida voters who are concerned about clean beaches and unpolluted air will want to pay special attention to Amendment 9 on the November ballot. Without doubt, Amendment 9 is Florida’s chance to leave a true legacy by creating a higher level of protection for and enshrining the value of our state’s natural resources.
This amendment prohibits offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters and adds the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices to the existing constitutional ban on tobacco smoking in enclosed workplaces.
The passage of Amendment 9 will give voters a strong platform and unified voice to send big oil and tobacco companies an explicit message: “Not off our shores and not in our public spaces!”
The first prohibition described in Amendment 9 will protect the beaches and waters 10 miles off the west coast of Florida and three miles off the east coast. While Florida has no jurisdiction over offshore waters owned by the federal government (which is considering opening more lands for drilling of oil), we can control the state-owned lands along our coastline.
Management of these lands and waters has a precarious history. As recently as 10 years ago, during the 2008 recession, the Florida Legislature was poised to permit oil drilling within five miles of Florida’s shores in an effort to increase revenues. Before that was enacted, tragedy struck on April 9, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon exploded off the cost of Louisiana, killing 11 workers and gushing oil into the fragile Gulf of Mexico waters for three horrific months.
The impact was felt around the Gulf of Mexico. Florida’s economy came to its knees. Visitors stopped coming to our beaches. Photos of dying and frightened oil-covered sea life and birds filled papers across the world. Fishermen who made their living on the water went bankrupt.
This environmental and economic disaster could happen again and closer to home unless we constitutionally protect Florida’s shores forever.
Additional protections provided in Amendment 9’s “no exploration” wording include no loud underwater seismic-testing that causes beaching and death of dolphins and whales and the avoidance of unsightly oil-drilling platforms like those that mar the coastlines of neighboring states.
Amendment 9 also helps protect our economy by strengthening our environmental protections. This is a significant impact. Last year, more than $189 billion flowed into Florida from visitors from around the world flocking to our top-rated beaches with stunning views, and the sports fishing industry, part of Florida’s heritage, adds tremendous sums to state coffers.
The second part of Amendment 9 updates the existing constitutional amendment that bans smoking in public workplaces, restaurants and indoor areas. The established amendment was placed on the 2002 ballot by citizen’s initiative and passed by more than 70 percent of Florida voters who were concerned about the effects of second-hand smoke.
Since the adoption of the 2002 constitutional amendment, new smoking technology has emerged with names such as vaping, e-cigarettes, vape pens, vape mods and e-hookah. At first, these devices were viewed as healthier alternatives for smokers and non-smokers alike.
However, a recent Surgeon General report detailed the health hazards of e-cigarette aerosol second-hand inhalation for everyone and concluded that pregnant women and young children are particularly vulnerable to vapors generated from electronic smoking. The danger of inadvertently and unwillingly suffering from second-hand effects of e-cigarettes is pronounced because e-cigs are designed to be largely odorless or to mask a slight odor by adding fruit, candy and other flavors.
Therefore, the only way to have uniform protection for all of our state’s citizens, especially the most vulnerable who cannot speak for themselves, is to update the language of the existing constitutional amendment in recognition of new technology.
Nearly 40 states and many Florida cities and counties have banned electronic smoking in public places. The American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association support Amendment 9. Passage of Amendment 9 will ensure that Florida residents and visitors will be afforded a true tobacco-free environment.
My personal values and love for my home state guided all of my work on the Constitution Revision Commission but particularly for Amendment 9. I am a proud eighth-generation Floridian who learned about stewardship of the state’s lands and people from my dad, a rancher and public servant.
Throughout the CRC process, my guiding question was, “What legacy can we leave that will strengthen and protect Florida’s precious resources now and for the future?”
The multi-part legacy of Amendment 9 is one we all can be proud to pass down to future generations: A constitutional commitment to keep our environment clean and thereby provide stronger protections for our waters, our economy, our wildlife, our lifestyle and our health.
That is why I proudly support and am voting for Amendment 9.
Lisa Carlton was a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission. She wishes to thank Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a fellow member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission and co-author of Amendment 9, for contributing to this column.