Oil drilling off, then back on ballot

Hands Across the Sand oil protest
Two months before the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, protestors drew a line in the sand against oil drilling on Anna Maria Island’s beaches. - Cindy Lane | Sun

Even though it addresses two entirely unrelated subjects – prohibiting oil drilling and indoor vaping – Florida Constitutional Amendment 9 will be included on the 2018 General Election ballot in November, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled.

The decision reverses a Leon County Circuit judge’s decision to remove the proposal and two others from the ballot because they combine unrelated issues in single proposed amendments.

In its Oct. 17 opinion, the state’s high court ruled that the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) can include multiple issues in single amendments, a practice criticized by opponents as a political ploy to defeat popular proposals by pairing them with unpopular proposals.

Three justices, R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, agreed with the ruling but criticized the practice.

“When amending our Florida Constitution, voters should not be forced to vote ‘yes’ on a proposal they disfavor in order to also vote ‘yes’ on a proposal they support because of how the Constitution Revision Commission has unilaterally decided to bundle multiple, independent and unrelated proposals,” Pariente wrote.

“Bundling multiple, independent and unrelated proposals in this way makes the task of voting significantly more difficult for Florida’s citizens, requiring them to decide – in addition to weighing the independent merits of each proposal – whether voting in favor of one proposal they approve of is worth also approving a proposal they do not favor.”

Earlier this year, the CRC approved the proposal, which would prohibit drilling for exploration or extraction of oil or natural gas beneath all state waters between the mean high-water line and the outermost boundaries of the state’s territorial seas, about nine miles off the western and southern coastlines and at least three miles off the eastern coastline.

It also adds the use of vapor-generating electronic devices to the current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces.

Passing the amendment might signal to a federal government that advocates drilling in federal waters that Floridians oppose offshore drilling, according to the League of Women Voters, which supports the amendment along with the Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, American Cancer Society, Florida Policy Institute, Progress Florida, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Earthjustice.

The amendment is one of 12 that Florida voters will decide Nov. 6. Constitutional amendments require at least 60 percent of the vote to become law.

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