There aren’t as many of them as in previous years, yet the five Constitutional amendments on the 2016 Florida ballot may be more confusing than ever. But clarity is on the way. St. Petersburg College’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions will present a public forum on July 28 to help voters understand what they will be voting on. The free program will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at SPC’s Clearwater campus, 2465 Drew Street.
There are two reasons for the extra confusion this year: First, two of the amendments are on the same general topic – solar power generation – and second, those two amendments will be voted on at separate elections: Amendment 4 in the Aug. 30 primary election, and Amendment 1 in the Nov. 8 general election. In the past, all proposed amendments to the state Constitution – sometimes a dozen or more – have been on the general election ballot only.
Of the two solar-related amendments, No. 4 would exempt from ad valorem taxes any solar or renewable energy devices a property owner installs. Amendment 1, backed by the utility industry and a diverse coalition of business and faith-based organizations, would establish a constitutional right for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.
For the other three proposed amendments, No. 2 generates the most debate. Legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, which narrowly failed to achieve a 60 percent majority in 2014, is back for a second referendum by Florida voters. As before, emotions on both sides of the issue are running high.
Neither of the other two amendments is expected to generate controversy. Amendment 3 would authorize ad valorem tax relief to first responders who are totally and permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty. Amendment 5 would expand homestead tax exemption for certain low-income senior citizens who own homes.
The forum will bring together a panel of experts to discuss the merits and demerits of all of the proposed amendments. Outlining the merits of Amendment 4 will be Chris Spencer, an aide to State Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, author of the proposed amendment. Speaking for Amendment 1 will be Screven Watson, board member of Consumers for Smart Solar. Arguing against Amendment 1 will be Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund.
For Amendment 2, the medical marijuana proposal, the case for passage will be made by Dr. Gregory Gerdeman, Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College. Speaking against will be Dr. Jessica Simpson, Florida Certified Prevention and Addictions Professional.
The non-controversial amendments, Nos. 3 and 5, will be outlined by the Hon. Chris Sprowls, state representative from District 65, which covers portions of north Pinellas County.
Advance registration is requested at http://solutions.spcollege.edu.