By Lazaro Aleman
Come Nov. 4, voters will decide on three constitutional amendments that could have far-reaching consequences for the state.
The following is a fairly objective explanation of the three measures, prepared by the League of Women Voters of Florida in a Nonpartisan Voter Guide that is available online at www.BeReadytoVote.org.
Amendment 1, titled “Water and Land Conservation,” requires that 33 percent of the net revenue collected from the documentary stamp tax (a levy primarily applied to real estate transactions) go towards the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which was set up by the Legislature in 1963 to purchase land for restoration, public parks and recreational uses.
Currently, the Legislature decides how much money goes into the trust fund each year. If voters approve Amendment 1, the trust fund would get the 33 percent automatically.
According to estimates, the trust fund would get $648 million under Amendment 1 during Fiscal Year 2015-16, and the amount could go up to $1.268 billion by Fiscal Year 2034-35, when the amendment is set to expire.
Since 1998, voters in 24 states have approved 79 laws creating $28 billion in new funds for land conservation, and voters in 11 states have placed funding for water and land conservation and management in their state constitutions.
A “Yes” vote on Amendment 1 would establish a long-term funding mechanism for environmental conservation without a new tax; it would remove reliance on yearly legislative funding for water and land conservation projects; and it would enhance publicly held recreational lands, possibly contributing to economic growth through increased eco-tourism.
A “No” vote on Amendment 1 would keep the funding for environmental conservation on a short-term basis; it would retain the Legislature’s ability to make budgetary decisions on a year-to-year basis; and it would not place language in the Florida Constitution relative to environmental conservation that would be difficult to modify or remove.
Amendment 2, titled “Medical Marijuana,” would permit the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. The amendment would specifically allow individuals with debilitating diseases, as determined by a licensed physician, to purchase and use medical marijuana.
Presently, under legislation passed in 2014, a strain of non-psychoactive cannabis known as “Charlotte’s Web” is permitted for medical use. Amendment 2 would legalize all forms of marijuana for medical use. The amendment’s language explicitly states that no insurance company or government agency can be required to cover its cost.
Additionally, the amendment prohibits the operation of a vehicle or boat while under the influence of marijuana and allows businesses, schools and public entities to ban marijuana from their facilities. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana.
A “Yes” vote on Amendment 2 would provide for the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes by individuals with debilitating diseases, as determined by a licensed Florida physician; it would maintain the current prohibition on marijuana use for recreational purposes; and it would require the Florida Department of Health to monitor centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and to issue identification cards to patients and caregivers.
A “No” vote on Amendment 2 would continue the current prohibition on marijuana use in Florida; it would maintain the status quo as it relates to enforcement of the marijuana laws currently in place; and it would not place language in the Florida Constitution relative to medical marijuana that would be difficult to modify or remove.
Amendment 3, titled “Judicial Appointments,” deals with prospective appointments of certain judicial vacancies.
The amendment would require a Governor to fill vacancies prospectively on the Florida Supreme Court or a district court of appeal when a justice or judge (a) reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70; (b) fails to quality for a retention election; or (c) fails to secure a majority of votes during his or her retention election.
Since 2001, the 26 Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNCs) for the Florida Supreme Court, district courts of appeal and trial courts have been comprised solely of gubernatorial appointees (nine per JNC) who serve four-year terms.
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that JNCs could begin their interviewing and nominating process prior to a judicial vacancy occurring, but an appointment could not be made until after the justice’s or judge’s term actually expired. Because it is possible for a justice’s or judge’s term to end on the same day that a new Governor takes office, the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 opinion can be read as authorizing the newly sworn-in Governor to fill those vacancies.
The law dictates that all judicial appointments must be made from a list of judicial applicants screened by the appropriate JNC. The Governor also must select a nominee from the list; the Governor is not allowed to reject the entire list and request a new slate of JNC nominees.
In a situation in which a judicial vacancy is created on the first day of a new Governor’s term, Amendment 3 would authorize the outgoing Governor — rather than the newly elected Governor — to appoint the successor judge or justice.
A “Yes” vote on Amendment 3 would invalidate the court interpretation of Florida’s Constitution as to who has authority to fill judicial vacancies; it would enable an outgoing Governor to make appointments to the Florida Supreme Court or a district court of appeal; and it would possibly shorten the time of a judicial vacancy.
A “No” vote on Amendment 3 would ensure that a newly-sworn Governor will fill prospective judicial vacancies; it would keep language relating to judicial appointments out of the Florida Constitution, where it would be difficult to modify or remove; and it would continue to allow judicial vacancies to exist for up to 120 days, possibly creating workload issues within the courts.
For the full guide, including information on the four state offices up for election (Governor, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture) and the several judges up for retention, visit www.BeReadytoVote.org.