Politics & Government

Baffled by the ballot? Here’s what Nov. 8 ballot measures are about

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As South Florida casts ballots — early or on Election Day — voters will make decisions on people they want to send to Washington and people they want to send to city hall.

But beyond all the notable names on the ballot will be several other pages of questions for voters in the form of amendments to the state Constitution and the Miami-Dade County charter, along with charter amendments or other ballot questions in about a third of the county’s municipalities.

Unlike choosing between a few names, these questions (or statements in some cases) are often filled with dense, legal language and citations of specific laws and subsections. This guide will help translate some of that into plain English as voters hit the polls.

STATE AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1

What it says:

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.

Amendment 1 will be voted on during the November 8 election.

What it means:

Opponents of Amendment 1 say the subsidy argument intentionally diminishes the value of solar. More use of solar power would result in cost savings for all utility customers because it reduces the need to build expensive new power plants, the measure’s opponents say.

Amendment 1 is perhaps the most controversial of the November ballot items. The language put into the state Constitution what is already allowed in state law -- that homeowners and businesses have the right to install solar panels. What it adds is a new protection for the regulated electric utility industry by creating a barrier to entry for competitors. The amendment does that by declaring that customers who do not install solar “are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power.” The language has been used in other states to provide a legal argument for regulators to change the way rooftop solar system owners are billed by the utilities, opening the door for added fees or lower rates that reduce the financial attractiveness of installing rooftop solar. Opponents of Amendment 1 say the subsidy argument intentionally diminishes the value of solar. More use of solar power would result in cost savings for all utility customers because it reduces the need to build expensive new power plants, the measure’s opponents say. The utility industry has spent nearly $22 million promoting this amendment.

Amendment 2

What it says:

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.

What it means:

Approval would expand the legal use of medical marijuana in Florida for people with specific medical conditions (Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and others). Caregivers can help patients use medical marijuana and the state health department will regulate centers and the distribution of medical marijuana ID cards. If approved, the amendment would not legalize non-medical marijuana use or possession.

Amendment 3

What it says:

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize a first responder, who is totally and permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty, to receive relief from ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property, if authorized by general law. If approved by voters, the amendment takes effect January 1, 2017.

What it means:

If approved, first responders — such as police officers and firefighters — would receive a property tax break if they are permanently disabled after suffering injuries on duty. The change would be effective starting Jan. 1.

Amendment 5

What it says:

Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to revise the homestead tax exemption that may be granted by counties or municipalities for property with just value less than $250,000 owned by certain senior, low-income, long-term residents to specify that just value is determined in the first tax year the owner applies and is eligible for the exemption. The amendment takes effect January 1, 2017, and applies retroactively to exemptions granted before January 1, 2017.

What it means:

Approval would make it easier for residents 65 and older to keep an already existing homestead exemption by locking in whatever the value of their home is when they apply for the exemption. The exemption is offered to low-income senior citizens who own a home that’s worth less than $250,000. The amendment would go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

The above state constitutional amendments require 60 percent of the vote for approval.

Manatee County

Question 6

What it says:

“To provide for safer neighborhoods, reduce traffic congestion and improve roadways and public facilities, shall Manatee County levy a half cent sales surtax for a period of fifteen years to fund roadways, sidewalks, intersections, street lights, infrastructure for law enforcement, emergency response, libraries, parks, waterways, public buildings and stormwater, all projects located exclusively in Manatee County, with citizen oversight?

What it means:

If a companion school district measure (Question 7) passes, it would raise the sales tax rate in Manatee County from 6.5 percent to 7 percent, and generate an estimated $30 million for Manatee County government coffers to leverage the issuance of debt to finance various infrastructure projects.

Question 7

What it says:

“Shall the Manatee County School Board extend the existing countywide one half cent sales surtax from January 1, 2018, to ending on December 31, 2032, charging its Audit Committee with the oversight of the surtax, thereby maintaining revenues statutorily available to be used for capital expenditures to reduce overcrowding, reduce portable classrooms, renovate existing schools, build new schools where needed, purchase technology and improve student safety and achievement.”

What it means:

If approved, it would continue an half-cent sales tax the district has levied since 2002. The estimated $30 million a year it would generate would help the school district to build new schools and renovate existing campuses to account for expected enrollment growth in the district.

Palmetto

What it says:

A ballot question asks Palmetto voters whether the city charter, the city’s governing document, should be amended.

What it means: If approved, the city would change needed qualifications to serve on the city commission, how it selects a vice mayor, and how it reviews future possible changes to the charter.

Bradenton Beach

What it says:

Voters are being asked whether the city should enact a six-month moratorium on building permits for certain types of rental housing.

What it means:

If approved, the moratorium would be for houses in the R1 and R2 zoning districts that contain more than four bedrooms or “sleeping areas,” and duplexes limited to two bedrooms or sleeping areas per side/level.

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