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Constitution Amendment Recommendations

October 26, 2016
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

For voters in Florida, there's a lot more on the Nov. 8 ballot than a plethora of races from the presidential on down.

Five constitutional amendments have been proposed this year, and four will be decided in the general election

One, Amendment No. 4, was placed on the August ballot; it was approved by the voters. The remaining four - Amendments No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5 - are still up for consideration.

They are all worth noting: No. 1, an alleged "solar energy" initiative, is greatly misleading; No. 2 would allow those with "debilitating illnesses" the option of medical treatment afforded in 25 states, but not Florida; and Nos. 3 and 5, would provide for additional homestead tax exemptions for two classes of property owners.

Our recommendations are:

Rights of electricity consumers regarding solar energy choice

My, oh my, if there ever was a descriptive misnomer, the so-called "Rights of electricity consumers regarding solar energy choice" amendment title and ballot summary wins the prize.

Proffered by some of the state's largest utility providers in response to a consumer-driven petition drive that failed to make it to the ballot, Amendment No. 1 squeaked itself on after its confusing language was challenged and the state Supreme Court narrowly allowed it by a 4-3 vote.

Ostensibly to "protect" the rights of Florida property owners to use solar energy, dissenting Justice Barbara Pariente summed up the proposal succinctly:

"Let the pro-solar energy consumer beware," she wrote. "Masquerading as a pro-solar-energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida's major investor-owned electric utilities actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo."

As noted by Justice Pariente, the proposed amendment addresses rights consumers already have in state statutes with an imbedded-in-stone twist: A "yes" vote could actually preclude property owners from opting to install solar provided by third-party vendors - i.e. not electric companies - and from selling any excess to other consumers - i.e. not electric companies, according to the League of Women Voters of Florida. A "yes" vote also would "create an assumption" that those who opt for solar "subsidize" electric company customers, thus mandating state and local governments to "protect" those customers, the League states.

It's not utility customers, uh, excuse us, "consumers," this "masquerading pro-solar-energy initiative" will protect - it's big, for-profit utilities that look to secure their monopolies.

Do not be fooled by this ballot initiative:?it is NOT pro-solar.

Vote NO on Amendment No. 1.

Ballot language:

No. 1 Constitutional Amendment

Article X, Section 29

Rights of electricity consumers regarding solar energy choice

This amendment establishes a right under Florida's Constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

The amendment is not expected to result in an increase or decrease in any revenues or costs to state and local government.

Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions

After a narrow defeat at the polls in 2014, a medical marijuana amendment is back on the 2016 General Election ballot here in Florida.

Approved by nearly 58 percent of the voters two years ago, the first attempt to allow doctors to prescribe the drug to patients failed, not because a majority of voters rejected it, but because Florida law requires a supermajority of 60 percent approval to change the state constitution.

A modified amendment, which more narrowly defines "debilitating illness," is now back on the ballot because the state Legislature, with an exception for the terminally ill, did little on this one despite the pretty definitive voter mandate.

Let us recap the arguments presented in our 2014 editorial urging a YES vote on medical marijuana, which already is legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia:

We agree that drug abuse is a scourge, the plague of the 21st century. Misuse costs lives. Absolutely.

But for the vast majority of users - and we stress the word "majority" here - properly administered and regulated drugs save lives and maintain quality of life.

As proposed, Amendment 2, would allow licensed Florida physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for "debilitating medical conditions," defined specifically as cancer; epilepsy; glaucoma; HIV; PTSD, post traumatic stress syndrome; ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease; Crohn's disease; Parkinson's; multiple sclerosis or other disease of like class.

Amendment 2 would allow doctors to decide whether medical marijuana would be less harmful, or more beneficial, than the array of drugs already legally prescribed that are now the only options available; whether its use would "likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient" - something physicians do for every script they currently write,

Passage of the amendment places implementation first with the Department of Health, and provides for the establishment of rules and regulations, including patient and caretaker identification cards, physician certifications and the registration of Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers.

The Florida Legislature retains the authority to implement legislation consistent with the provisions within the amendment.

It's a pretty well-defined process with built-in safeguards.

This means - fright ads to the contrary - no one is going to open a pot shop next door to a school; no one is going to authorize handing kids a wink-wink "prescription" or "pot candy;" and no one is going to start a legal grow house next door.

As we did in 2014, we urge a YES vote for Amendment No. 2, medical marijuana.

Ballot language:

No. 2 Constitutional Amendment

Article X, Section 29

Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions

Allows medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician. Allows caregivers to assist patients' medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not immunize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana.

Increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined. There will be additional regulatory costs and enforcement activities associated with the production, sale, use and possession of medical marijuana. Fees may offset some of the regulatory costs. Sales tax will likely apply to most purchases, resulting in a substantial increase in state and local government revenues that cannot be determined precisely. The impact on property tax revenues cannot be determined.

-Island Reporter editorial



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