No on solar-energy amendment; Yes on medical marijuana

Miami Herald Editorial Board

In 2014, University of Central Florida student Denisse Delmonte held a sign in favor of the medical-marijuana initiative, which Floridians rejected by a slim margin.
In 2014, University of Central Florida student Denisse Delmonte held a sign in favor of the medical-marijuana initiative, which Floridians rejected by a slim margin. MCT

Floridians will consider four constitutional amendments in November. Amendment 1 deals with solar energy; Amendment 2 asks about medical marijuana; Amendment 3 would give disabled first responders a property-tax exemption; and Amendment 5, is would help senior citizens stay in their homes. Amendment 4 provides property tax breaks for people who install solar panels on their homes. It was approved by voters in August.

Amendment 1

This amendment proposed by the Consumers for Smart Solar sounds like it has consumers’ best interest in mind, but the opposite is true. This is a utility-backed amendment that seeks to shut down consumers’ free-market choices.

Enough Floridians, swayed by the altruistic-sounding initiative, signed petitions in this campaign to give the amendment a spot in the ballot. Truth is, Consumers for Smart Solar, the committee behind Amendment 1, has received more than $20 million in contributions, almost all from energy companies.

Here’s what’s at the root of this amendment: Allowing homeowners and businesses to sell excess solar energy they produce. That’s competition that the utilities want to thwart.

Amendment 1 seeks to cement in the state Constitution what the law already allows. But there are four little words that likely would disallow third-party sales. Amendment 1 “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.” In other words, no sales of cheaper, excess electricity.

Amendment opponents say that utilities would also gain the right to put surcharges on solar customers to connect to the power grid, making solar more expensive and further suppressing the free market. Power companies contend this only makes solar homes and businesses pay their fair share of grid upkeep. “We support the amendment because it helps ensure future consumer protection for Floridians,” said Alys Daly, spokesperson for FPL.

We disagree and recommend NO on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2

Amendment 2 marks the return of medical marijuana to the ballot. The amendment put before voters in 2014 lost by a slim margin. It’s back, refined, retooled and improved.

United We Care, the grassroots organization pushing the amendment, has revised the original version, closing loopholes that were deal-killers for many Floridians.

It’s telling that state Attorney General Pam Bondi did not attempt to block the 2016 initiative, which she tried to do in 2014.

Now, the amendment would legalize medical marijuana for people with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and “other debilitating medical conditions.” It excludes patients with non-debilitating diseases and sets qualifications for caregivers.

In 2014, the Legislature legalized some strains of marijuana for patients with severe seizures. Last year, lawmakers legalized full-scale medical marijuana, but only for the terminally ill.

Once again, initiative foes argue the legalization of medical cannabis should be handled by the state Legislature instead of being enshrined into the Florida Constitution.

We agree, but since lawmakers have repeatedly failed to pass comprehensive legislation, sick Floridians want this relief. For their sake, we recommend YES on Amendment 2.

Amendment 3

This amendment adds first responders who become permanently disabled in the line of duty to the list of people who get an exemption from property taxes. Police, firefighters and paramedics already are covered by current law. Yes, this represents a loss of revenue for the state, but it’s the right thing to do for these public servants.

We recommend YES on Amendment 3.

Amendment 5

In 2012, voters approved a property-tax exemption for Floridians 65 and older living in a home worth less than $250,000, with an annual household income of $28,448 in 2015. But if the value of the home goes up, so do the assessed taxes — catastrophic on a fixed income. This amendment clarifies that the home value is the one set when residents first apply. It’s a needed fix.

We recommend YES on Amendment 5.