Constitutional amendments spur debate
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
While all the hoopla over the presidential race might overshadow the down-ballot races, voters will also have to state their position on four proposed state constitutional amendments.
Amendment 3 calls for homestead tax exemptions for first responders who suffer a permanent disability. Amendment 5 is a proposal to exempt certain seniors, low income, and long-term residents whose property value is less than $250,000.
Both will take effect on Jan. 1 if approved by voters.
But Amendments 1 and Amendment 2 relate to two long-standing issues that have been causing the most controversy.
The first proposes that consumers may own or lease solar equipment to install on their property for their own source of electricity. Additionally, it also will require state and local governments to ensure that consumers who don’t choose solar power aren’t required to subsidize those who do.
Meanwhile, Amendment 2, if approved, will allow medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating conditions as determined by a licensed physician in the state.
Proponents of both say they are necessary, while opponents contend that neither should be added to the Florida Constitution. Each side on both of the controversial proposals has ramped up their campaigns to get their point across to voters in recent weeks.
No matter the position on the two controversial proposals, backers have been reaching out to influential figures in addition to their advertising platforms.
“In recent weeks, five former Florida Supreme Court Justices have come out against the measure, citing that it has no place in Florida’s Constitution,” said Christina Johnson, spokesperson for the Vote No on 2 campaign.
“In fact, the Florida Police Chief’s Association, the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Farm Bureau all have voiced their opposition and concerns about this ill-conceived measure.
“The Florida Baptist Convention and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops also say the amendment is problematic and should be defeated,” she added.
One of the biggest concerns among opponents of the medical marijuana amendment is the potential for what they call “pot shops” to inundate the state. Opponents also questioned how the drug will be dispensed and the qualifications of the people doing so.
Opponents also contend that the dispensaries could end up at locations close to residential communities. Florida already has six locations that sell medical marijuana, including one in Tallahassee.
Proponents of medical marijuana are expecting the proposal to be voted into the constitution after a near miss in 2014. It’s currently polling around 80 percent, according to Taylor Biehl, co-founder of the Medical Marijuana Business Association.
“Things will change come November 8,” he said. “The patient base will increase dramatically. There has been some recent opposition with the police chiefs, but I think it’s too late.”
Biehl made a point of stressing that unlike what opponents have been arguing, the process of who gets medical marijuana and how it’s dispense will be closely regulated. Doctors will have to pass a test to get certified to recommend medical marijuana for patients, while patients will have to see doctor for 90 days to qualify for medical marijuana.
“There is an overwhelming number of legislative support for the amendments now,” he said.
The biggest arguments over Amendment 1 are consumer protection, and how they consumers will be compensated if they wanted to sell excess solar power to an electric provider. The four electric providers in the state stand to benefit financially from the proposal, opponents say.
Calls to the four electric suppliers in the state for comments have not been returned. The suppliers are Gulf Power, Duke Energy, Florida Power and Light and Tampa Electric Company.
Another contention is that consumers who want solar power will have to lease equipment from a third party. That would be too risky, said Matthew Carter, a member of the coalition that supports Amendment 1.
“They talk of fraud, scams, rip-offs and things of that nature,” Carter said. “We didn’t want that to happen in Florida, so we said consumer protection is very important so it has to be in the constitution. No company should be exempt from providing consumer services when people are buying things.
“If we are not successful with Amendment 1, the folks who least can afford it will have to subsidize people who can afford it.”