Weekly Roundup: Light at the End of the Tunnel

(Recap and analysis of the week in state government)


©2016 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. You can view the Terms of Use on our website.

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, November 4, 2016.......... Four months ago, nearly six out of 10 Americans were already feeling exhausted by election coverage, according to the Pew Research Center.

Voters were worn out long before Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump earned the nominations of their respective parties, and before stories of Russian email hacking and accusations of groping subsumed deeper topics, like the candidates' actual stands on issues such as the economy.

But if Floridians were weary in June or July, they might be near comatose now, as the White House wannabes and their surrogates storm the state in the lead-up to Tuesday's election.

With the presidential race in the crucial swing state too close to call, it's no surprise that both sides are storming the peninsula in an attempt to ensure that there's a clear winner when the results are tallied Tuesday night.

According to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, boredom and pain are the two enemies of human happiness. Even casual observers of this year's political season may believe that Floridians, along with the rest of the country, have had ample servings of both.


Even the Florida Supreme Court, which typically could provide a welcome distraction from election hijinks, got stuck in the fray this week.

Opponents of a controversial solar-energy ballot initiative asked the justices on Wednesday to again review and strike down the proposed constitutional amendment largely bankrolled by utility companies.

But in terse, single-line statements Friday, the court dismissed as "moot" requests by the Florida Solar Energy Industries Association and the group Floridians for Solar Choice to reconsider the court's approval of ballot language for the initiative known as Amendment 1.

Expressing disappointment with the rulings, the initiative's critics maintained their view that Amendment 1 is "deceptive," while saying they will focus on keeping the proposal from reaching the 60 percent voter approval needed for passage.

"We wanted to give the court an opportunity to clean up the mess they have made by approving this amendment for the ballot," Stephen Smith, a member of Floridians for Solar Choice and executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a statement. "Now it's game on: We have a solar uprising happening in the Sunshine State. We ask everyone to vote no on 1 and we look forward to Tuesday when we will kill this once and for all."

Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power have spent a combined $20.2 million in support of the amendment, which would enshrine in the Florida Constitution existing rules about the use of solar energy by private property owners. The proposal also includes a more-contentious provision, which states that people who haven't installed solar on their property "are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do."

Proponents say the second provision offers consumer protections for people who don't install solar panels. But opponents argue it could result in "discriminatory charges" against rooftop solar users and limit the desire of people to go solar.

The Florida Solar Energy Industries Association and Floridians for Solar Choice, which have long contended that Amendment 1 is deceptive, based their requests to the Supreme Court this week on an audio tape that included comments by Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute. On the tape, first reported by the Miami Herald, Nuzzo described how to use a "little bit of political jiu-jitsu" in promoting solar to win support for desired changes in policy.

Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Consumers for Smart Solar, the group spearheading the initiative, said there were no surprises in the court dismissing the "frivolous" requests Friday.

"This was nothing more than a political stunt to deter voters' attention in the final days of the election," Bascom said in a statement.


The justices on Wednesday also heard arguments about a proposed constitutional amendment that could severely limit the expansion of gambling in Florida by giving voters, instead of state lawmakers or counties, control over casino-style games.

Proponents hope to get the "Voter Control of Gambling in Florida" proposal on the 2018 ballot, but the Supreme Court first has to decide whether the ballot summary is clear and whether the measure adheres to the "single subject" requirement of citizens' initiatives.

Much of Wednesday's arguments focused on whether voters would know that, by endorsing the proposal, they would be taking away control of casino-type gambling decisions from the Legislature and county officials.

Lawyer Adam Schachter, who represents Voters in Charge, the committee behind the proposed amendment, pointed out that the state high court is poised to decide whether Gretna Racing, a tiny pari-mutuel in rural Gadsden County, can have slot machines. That ruling is expected to have a wide-ranging impact: Voters in five other counties --- Brevard, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach and Washington --- have also approved slots at local tracks or jai alai frontons.

The Gretna case --- centered on whether gambling operators can add slots if county voters give the go-ahead, even without the express permission of the Legislature --- exemplifies the need for the proposed constitutional change, Schachter argued.

"There is a lack of clarity on this," Schachter told the justices. "This amendment … would provide the needed clarity."

But attorney Marc Dunbar, who represents a non-profit organization opposed to the initiative and who owns a small share of the Gretna facility, warned that the constitutional change, if approved, would lead to "a ridiculous amount of litigation" over its interpretation.

Dunbar said the proposal is misleading because voters might not know that the measure could have a chilling effect, using as an example arcade games such as "claw" machines, which were caught up in a law aimed at shutting down internet cafes.

"Will (arcades) be frozen forevermore for any new product because they operate under a slot machine exemption?" Dunbar asked. "Will they have to go to a statewide initiative because they want a new arcade game?"

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Florida Supreme Court refused to remove from the ballot a controversial solar-energy initiative backed by utility companies.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Let's calm down here." --- Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, speaking to attorney Marc Dunbar as he argued against a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at giving voters control over casino gambling.


© 2016 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. You can view the Terms of Use on our website.

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