The Tuesday Count: Florida measure to rejuvenate conservation fund on 2014 ballot
Edited by Ryan ByrneFlorida voters will have the opportunity to reinvigorate the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF). Created by the Florida Legislature in 1963, the LATF was designed to fund the Outdoor Recreation and Conservation Program, which would primarily purchase land for parks and recreation areas. Originally, the legislature allocated revenue from a five percent tax on outdoor clothing and equipment, including bathing suits. Since, the legislature has allocated revenues from bond sales and a documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions and financial documents. In 2009, however, appropriations for the fund were slashed.
An organization known as “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, Inc.” has garnered the support of over 400 environmental, recreational, political, religious and women’s organizations and 300 small businesses to put the Water and Land Conservation Initiative on the November 4, 2014 ballot. The initiative proposes a new revenue source for the LATF, namely, the existing excise tax on documents. The measure would not appropriate all revenue from the excise tax, just 33 percent. According to the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, the “amendment does not increase or decrease state revenues” since the would-be appropriated funds already exist. The measure has drawn opposition from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (R) and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Putnam stated, "I've certainly demonstrated my support for buying easements and accomplishing water and wildlife benefits from the use of acquisition programs. But I'm troubled by writing into the constitution elements of the budget." The Gainesville Sun editorial board offered a rebuttal, saying, "[Putnam’s words are] politico-speak for “Don’t try to tell us how to spend your money, voters.”
The Florida Water and Land Legacy, Inc. turned in 690,802 valid signatures to the Department of State on January 16, 2014. That number is slightly more than the 683,149 signatures necessary to get the initiative on the ballot. The organization needed to submit their last signatures by February 1, 2014. In Florida, the ballot title and summary must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court. On September 26, 2013, the court ruled the measure’s language to be accurate, concise and constitutional. On January 17, 2014, the measure was certified for the ballot and assigned the title “Amendment 1.”
Florida may have a second initiative on the ballot, the Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, which would legalize medical marijuana. People United for Medical Marijuana filed more than 1.1 million signatures on January 15, 2014. The signatures are still being validated by the State Department. The measure has not yet been approved by the Supreme Court, however. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) has filed a challenge to the Supreme Court, arguing, “The [medical marijuana] proposal hides the fact that the Amendment would make Florida one of the most lenient medical-marijuana states, allowing use for limitless 'other conditions' specified by any physician. With no 'condition' off limits, physicians could authorize marijuana for anything, any time, to anyone, of any age. But rather than tell voters of this extraordinary scope, the summary uses language to prey on voters' understandable sympathies for Florida's most vulnerable patients — those suffering 'debilitating diseases.” The Supreme Court has until April 1, 2014 to decide the measure’s validity and constitutionality.
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State-mandated marriage education measure filed in Colorado: The Marriage Education Initiative has been filed by the organization “Kids Against Divorce” in Colorado. The measure would require mandatory, pre-wedding classes for couples wanting to get married. The couple’s curriculum would be based on how many times a given person has been married. Classes would be 10 hours for a couple marrying for their first time, 20 hours for a couple where one or both persons is preparing to get married a second time and 30 hours for those preparing for marriage a third time. Proponents stated that the measure’s purpose is to “better prepare individuals going into marriage to fulfill their new roles as spouse and potentially as parent, to furthermore protect children given that marriage is the foundation of a family unit.”
Georgia gubernatorial candidate introduces legislation for an education trust fund measure: State Senator Jason Carter (D-42), a candidate in the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election, has expressed frustration over the state’s education budget. He’s proposed the Education Trust Fund Amendment, which would establish an education trust fund that is distinct from the state general budget and order legislators to first approve an education budget before negotiating a general appropriations budget. Carter called his plan “fiscally conservative,” noting, “Today, our education budget is a shell game. A separate education fund will make our investment in education the state's top priority. To me, setting out clear priorities for how our money gets spent - and living by them - is what it means to be a fiscal conservative.”
Proposed amendment would increase legislative term lengths and limits in Florida: The Legislative Term Lengths and Limits Amendment has been introduced into the Florida Legislature by Rep. Keith Perry (R-21). His measure would increase the term lengths for state senators from 4 years to 6 years and for state representatives from two to four years and increase term limits from eight consecutive years to 12 consecutive years for both. Since the measure is an amendment, Floridians would need to approve the measure by a sixty percent majority vote on election day.
Advisory question on education funding tax introduced in Pennsylvania House: Pennsylvania constituents haven’t voted on a ballot measure since 2008. State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203) wants to change that. He has introduced legislation for the State Education Funding Tax Question, which would put a non-binding referendum regarding education funding on the ballot. The question would ask whether voters approve of an increased tax on either sales, personal income, business or a severance tax imposed on hydraulic fracking operations to raise an additional $1 billion annually for public education. The non-binding question is unlikely to make the ballot, according to Franklin and Marshall College’s Dr. Terry Madonna, a political science professor. He said, “There's no way the Republican-controlled legislature is going to do that. They're just not going to do that and they're obviously not going to do it in an election year.”
Louisiana senator wants a vote on public health care: Louisiana Sen. Ben Nevers (D-12) has introduced the Participation in Medicaid Expansion Amendment and Public Healthcare for People Below Poverty Line Amendment into the Louisiana Legislature. The first would order the state government to expand Medicaid as offered under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare." The second would require the state to provide public health insurance to people living below the federal poverty line. The measures must first receive a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature before being placed on the ballot.
A second 2014 county initiative seeking to ban genetically modified organisms was announced, this time in California:
The Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt has requested and received an official ballot title and summary for an initiative measure that would, if successful, "prohibit the propagation, cultivation, raising, or growing of genetically modified organisms in Humboldt County." Humboldt is the second county in which a ballot measure banning genetically modified organisms has been announced for 2014. On May 20, residents of Jackson County, Oregon, which is only 200 miles from Humboldt, will vote on a similar ban. The Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt needs only 4,300 valid signatures to join Jackson county and qualify their ordinance for a voter decision. Leaders of the committee hope to collect between 8,000 and 10,000 signatures before Earth Day on April 22, 2014 to ensure qualification.
The ordinance enacted by the approval of this measure on the November 4 ballot would classify the growth of genetically modified organisms as a public nuisance and would dictate that all violations be referred to the county agricultural commissioner. In the event of a violation, the genetically modified materials would be confiscated or destroyed and a fine could be imposed. In cases of a citizen making an allegation of GMO growing activity, the person with the complaint would be required to show convincing evidence of the violation.
Bill Schaser, spokesperson for the Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt, indicated that the committee does not know what to expect in terms of opposition to the ordinance. Referring to chemical and agricultural industry lobbying groups that have spent large amounts of money in opposition to GMO labeling laws, GMO bans and other GMO restrictions, Schaser said, "I don't know what forces will come in here. Maybe the big boys will ignore us, but we have to be prepared.” The group is looking to raise an initial $10,000 to begin campaigning for the measure, once it qualifies for the ballot.
Interestingly, Schaser is supporting the initiative mainly from an economic, rather than environmental, perspective. Schaser said, ”I’m not opposed to biotech. My big push is the question, ‘Is [a GMO ban] in our best interest for Humboldt County’s economic development?’” He also pointed to the success of local, organic farmers for whom it is essential to be able to guarantee the GMO-free status of their products, as their clients are willing to pay more for GMO-free and organic foods. Schaser said that the sale of local organic products totaled $44 million in 2011. He also indicated that it was becoming more and more difficult for farmers to find non-GMO seeds every year, which is inhibiting one of Humboldt's selling points and original goals: to “Make Humboldt County the good food capital of California”.
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- Florida Department of Environmental Protection, “Land Acquisition Programs”, accessed January 21, 2014
- Bradenton Herald, "Time for Florida voters to protect natural resources with Water and Land Conservation Amendment," August 28, 2013
- The Gainesville Sun, "Alachua County among leaders in getting conservation initiative on ballot," January 18, 2014
- WUFT, "Florida Conservation Coalition Seeks Signatures For 2014 Ballot Amendment," September 24, 2013
- Florida Department of State, "Water and Land Conservation," accessed January 21, 2014
- Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research, "Financial Impact Statement," accessed January 21, 2014
- The Gainesville Sun, "Voters should have chance to invest in state’s natural legacy," December 1, 2013
- Florida Department of State, "Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions," accessed January 21, 2014
- Sunshine State News, "United For Care Gathers 1.1 Million Signatures for Marijuana Petition," January 15, 2014
- Tampa Bay Times, "PolitiFact Florida: Medical marijuana amendment has lenient 'condition' clause," January 5, 2014
- Orlando Sun Sentinel, "'Glimmer of hope' for medical marijuana in Florida," December 30, 2013
- The Denver Post, "Colorado ballot measure proposes education classes to marry," January 20, 2014
- WMGT, "Carter Proposes Georgia Education Budget Referendum," January 16, 2014
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Carter files resolution on education budget," January 16, 2014
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Jason Carter: Deal's education budget is 'shell game'," January 15, 2014
- Florida House of Representatives, "House Joint Resolution 613," accessed January 21, 2014
- Pennsylvania Legislature, "House Resolution 613," accessed January 21, 2014
- WHYY, "Rep. Dwight Evans calls for referendum on Pennsylvania education funding," January 14, 2014
- The Times-Picayune, "State senator will introduce constitutional amendments on Medicaid, health care for the poor," January 14, 2014
- Redwood Times, "GMO Free Humboldt launches signature drive for Nov. ballot measure," January 21, 2014
- Committee for a GMO Free Humboldt