Voters Views On Amendments Put Pressure On Legislature

Nov 7, 2014

Florida voters overwhelmingly said yes to a dedicated funding source for land conservation and no to giving governors more power over the judiciary.  Another high-profile amendment fell just shy of what it needed to bring medical marijuana to Florida.

Nearly half the states have legalized marijuana either for recreational or for medicinal purposes, but Florida isn’t one of them.

“At the end of the day, Florida voters said no, we don’t want this codified in our constitution, we don’t want these loopholes, we don’t want this amendment," says Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Representing the views of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, he’s been a critic of an amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida. The effort was largely backed by trial lawyer John Morgan who poured millions of dollars of his own money into the Yes On 2 campaign. But the amendment fell two-points shy of the needed 60 percent support to get into the state’s constitution. Morgan, and supporters of the amendment, say they plan to try again in 2016-when a presidential election will tend to bring out a larger swath of voters.

Still, the night wasn’t a total loss for supporters of amendments. And one—Amendment 1 that is—has been enshrined in the state’s governing document. It dedicates a percentage of revenue from real estate fees to purchase land for environmental purposes. And Will Abberger, with the Trust For Public Land, hails it as a victory.

"With this overwhelming victory for Amendment One shown how much they care for protecting Florida’s water quality, its drinking water sources, our natural areas and our wildlife habitat.”

Since 2009 funding for the Florida Forever land-buying program plummeted from a high of $500 million down to $17.5 million in new dollars this year. Amendment One mandates dollars will always be available and it will earmark $9 billion during the next 20 years. But it’s that mandate that concerns lawmakers  who say it will restrict the use of that money for other things in the budget.

“Amendment 1 will cost a lot of money. There’s going to be some pain there," said Incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner speaking to the Florida Channel.

Tuesday night voters also resoundingly rejected a legislative plan to change gubernatorial appointments to the Florida Supreme Court and appeals courts. Amendment Three was complicated—asking voters to decide a situation that won’t occur until 2019. That year, on one day, there will be two governors. One incoming and one outgoing. At the same time, the terms of three Florida Supreme court justices expire. Amendment Three would have let the outgoing governor make the appointments, something opponents said would change the political balance of the court, since the three justices make up the group that tends to oppose the Republican-led legislature. The League of Women Voters of Florida also opposed the plan, and President Diedre McNabb is pleased to see it fail.

“You really can’t think of any other situation where you asking an outgoing elected official to pick the team that will be serving in the future," she says. "That’s what this proposal by the legislature was proposing to do. Voters said no, and they said no strongly.” 

Now that voters have spoken, its time for the legislature to act. Florida lawmakers will have to create implementing language for Amendment One to line up the state’s laws with what’s in the constitution. And lawmakers will also have to decide what to do about the issue of medical marijuana. While amendment two failed—it still garnered a majority of support.