Understanding Florida's constitutional amendment questions on November ballot

Glenna Milberg breaks down what yes, no vote means

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Local 10 News reporter Glenna Milberg breaks down each of Florida's four constitutional amendment questions on the November ballot.

Amendment 1: Rights of electricity consumers regarding solar energy choice

The so-called solar amendment is the first of four constitutional amendment questions on the ballot. 

Florida's electric companies have spent more than $20 million selling it to voters. But the question may be confusing. Even a Florida Supreme Court justice called it "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

Polls show solar power is an easy sell to Floridians. That's why the wording of Amendment 1 may be a bit shady. It's important context to know that the ballot question is created and promoted by the utility companies that stand to lose money when and if people buy into solar power.

Breaking down the actual ballot question makes it more clear. Most of it changes nothing.

The first sentence reads, "…establishes a right for consumers to own or lease solar equipment and generate their own electricity." But every Floridian can already do that, right now.  

Then it reads, "...governments retain abilities to protect consumers," which is already the basic job of government.

The final sentence is key, "…ensure consumers who don't install solar are not required to subsidize the costs created by those who do."  There are currently no subsidies or inequalities created by solar power installation, use or billing. But with that sentence, Amendment 1 would give electric utility monopolies the ability to prevent people from keeping savings they create by installing their own solar.

Those who truly support growing solar energy say Amendment 1 takes away the incentive for people to grow Florida's solar industry, which is already lagging behind far-less sunny states, and they say it would protect power company profits.

Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Gulf Power and Tampa Electric are all spending millions to fund Amendment 1 and protect their ability to control the solar power market.

Voting "yes" on one keeps the status quo and helps utilities benefit from solar expansion.

Voting "no" protects citizens' benefits of solar power, both environmental and economic.

Amendment 2: Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions

Voters on the November ballot are once again asked to amend the state constitution to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Florida, as 25 other states and Washington, D.C., already have. The first time it was on the Florida ballot two years ago, a similar amendment fell short of passing by two percentage points. 

This round two for Amendment 2 again asks voters to guarantee the medicinal use of marijuana for patients with debilitating medical conditions, as prescribed by doctors.

Supporters say marijuana is scientifically proven as pain relief for people who suffer from a variety of chronic diseases and conditions. 

The citizens' group that got the question on the ballot has made a few changes since the question was on the 2014 ballot: more clearly defined conditions and diseases for patients to be eligible, parental consent required for anyone under 18 and added legal responsibility for doctors. 

Also worth noting that, since 2014, Florida lawmakers did pass a law that allows for non-smokeable, low-THC marijuana to be used medically.

Opponents point to that law as an example of how state statutes are the more appropriate place for medical marijuana laws, not the state constitution.

They are also concerned that Amendment 2 leaves too much too vague, like how many dispensaries will open and where, and the definition of who can be a caregiver.  

This is one of the amendments that have an enumerated cost: an estimated $3 million annually for the Florida Department of Health to manage the regulations.

A "yes" vote on Amendment 2 supports legalizing medical marijuana via the state constitution.

A "no" vote opposes it and keeps the state's status quo in place.

Amendment 3: Tax exemption for totally and permanently disabled first responders

Of the four state constitutional amendment questions on the November 2016 ballot, two involve property tax exemptions for certain groups of people. Amendment 3 is one of those.

The Florida Constitution has been amended several times to provide property tax exemptions for some deserving groups. Amendment 3 asks voters to do that again, this time for first responders, including police, firefighters, etc., who were injured in the line of duty. That added tax break is already there for spouses of first responders who die in the line of duty.

Polls show voters find it easy to support a give-back to people who sacrifice their lives to serve and protect.

In past elections, voters approved tax-exemptions for groups like senior-age military veterans disabled in combat.

There is no organized opposition to Amendment 3. One downside might be fewer property tax dollars for local and state revenue. How much that loss might be is not yet determined, likely a fraction of one percent of the budget.

Also, there has been opposition to making the patchwork of differing tax bills to Florida residents even more complicated than it already is.

If voters approve an additional property tax exemption to disabled first responders, lawmakers still have to write a bill to grant it. That's likely, as they are the ones who put the question on the ballot in the first place.

Voting "yes" on Amendment 3 gives an additional property tax break to first responders disabled while on duty.

Voting "no" means there would be no changes to their property tax bills. 

Amendment 5: Homestead tax exemption for certain senior, low-income, long-term residents; determination of just value

Of the four questions on the November ballot asking voters to amend the state Constitution, two involve property tax exemptions for certain groups of people. Amendment 5 is one of those.

To understand what it asks, it's important to know that the constitution currently exempts low-income seniors who meet some conditions from paying property tax.

The people who qualify are 65 and older, whose annual income is below $20 thousand, who have lived in a home worth less than $250,000 for at least 25 years. Voters passed that exemption four years ago.

Now comes concern that rising property values might, at some point, make a home too valuable to fit the criteria for the tax break.

That's what Amendment 5 fixes.

It clarifies that a home's value considered for the low-income senior tax exemption remains the same home value as when the resident first applied for it.

Lawmakers added this question to the ballot to keep Florida's rising and falling property values from putting elderly low-income homeowners in a sudden financial binds.

There would not be much of a revenue loss to local governments, because this group of homeowners isn't currently paying any property tax.

A "yes" vote on Amendment 5 clarifies that low-income, elderly, longtime Floridians do not have to ever pay property taxes.

Voting "no" leaves this group to worry that rising property values may force them to have a tax bill in the future.

Copyright 2016 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.