Editorials

Bradenton Herald recommendations in brief form on Florida's constitutional amendment proposals

Here are highlights in brief of the Herald's recommendations on the three constitutional amendments on Florida's ballot. Our complete endorsement editorials can be found online at www.bradenton.com/endorsements.

Amendments require 60 percent of the vote for passage. Early voting begins today in Manatee County.

Amendment 1: Yes

This amendment -- officially titled "Water and Land Conservation" -- would put a premium on funding for a broad swath of environmental programs. This citizens initiative, placed on the ballot via signature petitions, forces the Legislature to adhere to the spirit of the Florida Forever Act.

That land conservation law was designed to receive $300 million annually from the existing documentary stamp tax, which is applied to real estate transactions.

Another $100 million a year from another trust fund, the Water Sustainability Act, had been invested in the protection of the state's waterways, springs and drinking water as well as fish and wildlife habitats.

But during the four years of Gov. Rick Scott's administration, the Legislature diverted trust fund dollars elsewhere and only a shade under $29 million went into Florida Forever projects.

This dedicated funding source, set to expire in fiscal year 2034-2035, would pour an estimated $648 million into the trust during FY 2015-2016.

This trust fund is essential to the management and restoration of ecosystems and enhances recreational opportunities and public access of conservation lands.

Florida's environment is a precious commodity, one that drives the tourism industry. Florida voters should champion environmental protection and restoration as a vital investment in the future.

Amendment 2: No

Medical marijuana has proven to be a godsend for some people suffering from debilitating conditions. On those humanitarian grounds, Amendment 2 could hold great merit. Even opponents of the proposal -- including law enforcement officers -- admit to the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

But as a practical matter, the ballot language contains worrisome provisions that open the door to abuse. The ballot summary sounds innocent, but the wording is full of loopholes.

While the full text directs the state Department of Health to compose rules to implement the language, just how restrictive they would be is not only unknown but could be subject to court challenges. The text only requires "reasonable regulations."

Do Florida voters want to take a gamble on how this turns out if the amendment is approved? We hope not. We need certainty.

Florida would be best served by thoughtful legislation that leaves nothing to chance, nothing open to interpretation and litigation. Amendment 2 fails that litmus test.

Amendment 3: No

The least understood and most invisible amendment on the ballot is not generating campaign enthusiasm among supporters or opponents. Amendment 3 -- titled "Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies" -- even sounds ponderous.

But make no mistake, the impact could be considerable, influencing the direction of the state's top courts and judicial decisions for generations.

Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature placed this measure on the ballot after highly partisan voting in both chambers. That suggests politics are at play.

Amendment 3 shifts the power to nominate replacements from the incoming governor to the outgoing one.

One of the primary problems with Amendment 3 is it empowers an outgoing governor who cannot be held accountable to the electorate, but who leaves office with influential appointments that will impact state policy for years.

Should this issue even need to be addressed, that should be left to the state's Constitution Revision Commission, which next convenes in 2017.

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