This year, on two separate election days, Florida voters had — and will have — the opportunity to vote on two different constitutional amendments.

(Editor’s Note: At press time, the August 30th primary had yet to occur. However, it has since been reported that Amendment 4 was approved by nearly 73 percent of Florida voters at the primary, thus the measure will take effect on January 1, 2018, and expire on December 31, 2037.)

Amendment 4: Florida Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Measure

By way of background, the Florida Constitution currently provides for local government ad valorem taxes on real property and tangible personal property, assessment of property for tax purposes, and exemptions to these taxes. Section 4(i) in Article VII of the Florida Constitution also provides that the legislature may prohibit the consideration of the installation of a renewable energy source device in the determination of the assessed value of real property used for residential purposes.

This year on March 9, HJR 193 was passed to expand the current constitutional provisions by including all real property, not just real property used for residential purposes. This joint resolution authorizes the legislature to exempt the assessed value of solar devices for tangible personal property and prohibit the consideration of such devices when assessing the value of real property for ad valorem taxation. Accordingly, under Amendment 4, businesses will no longer pay property taxes on solar panels or other devices.

Amendment 1: Florida Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use

This amendment, the Florida Right to Solar Energy Choice Initiative or Amendment 1, will appear on the November 8 general election ballot. Unlike Amendment 4, which was a proposal by the state legislature, Amendment 1 was proposed as a citizens’ initiative petition by receiving the requisite number of signatures.

If approved, this amendment would add language to Article X, Section 29 of the Florida Constitution, establishing a right for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for personal use. Amendment 1 also provides that state and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who choose not to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

According to supporters of Amendment 1, the measure will help those who choose solar energy by allowing state and local governments to pass commonsense consumer protection regulations designed to prevent fraud, abuse and overcharging. Conversely, critics of Amendment 1 contend that the measure’s ballot summary and title are misleading and promise to provide solar rights that already exist.

 

So What’s the Legal Scoop?

Generally, amendments to the Florida Constitution must be approved by at least 60 percent of voters to pass. Notwithstanding this substantial super-majority threshold for approving constitutional amendments, Florida voters have historically demonstrated enormous support for measures relating to the environment and conservation. Despite the high threshold for approving constitutional amendments like Amendment 4 and Amendment 1, Florida voters have historically demonstrated enormous support for constitutional amendments relating to the environment and conservation. Most recently, voters approved the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment, Amendment 1, by an overwhelming 75 percent. Similarly, in 2002, Florida voters shockingly approved a ballot initiative creating constitutional rights for pregnant pigs.

For questions regarding the above-mentioned constitutional amendments or any other inquiries about environmental or land use law, please contact me at austin.turner@henlaw.com or (239) 344-1178.

Photo courtesy of ricketyus under Flickr Creative Commons License.