Amendment 9: Florida’s referendum on vaping and offshore drilling

In Florida on Tuesday, voters are going to be asked whether they want to ban fossil fuel drilling and indoor vaping — together, in the same referendum.

Yes, you read that right.

Florida Amendment 9 is an actual ballot initiative that bundles together two completely unrelated issues. But if 60 percent of voters sign off on it, the amendment would revise the state constitution to prohibit both offshore oil and gas drilling and the use of e-cigarettes in indoor workplaces.

Separately, the measures seem reasonable. E-cigarette use has exploded in every state the US, and several states have already moved ahead with indoor vaping bans — a direction that’s recommended by public health experts (though evidence on the health impact of second-hand vapor is still lacking).

Florida also has existing regulations to limit offshore drilling. But enshrining a ban in the state constitution would more permanently protect the state’s coasts and wildlife from oil and gas extraction that could harm them and hamper Florida’s all-important tourism industry.

The odd coupling is being justified by proponents as an “environmental amendment.” “The issues together send a message of clean air, clean water,” Lisa Carlton, a former Florida senator and author of the proposal to curb the use of e-cigarettes, told Grist.

Yet, as University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, “It makes no sense to the average voter why they were put together.”

Views of Miami.
De Agostini via Getty Images

Whether or not Florida Amendment 9 is logical, it’s definitely legal. As Grist’s Justine Calma reported, Florida is the only state that has a commission — the Constitution Revision Commission — which suggests constitutional changes. They meet every 20 years and have the power to “bundle” numerous constitutional changes into single amendment ballot initiatives.

The argument for bundling, in addition to the commission’s view that the issues are of the same kind, is that it streamlines the ballot. This year, the commission exercised that right in one of a dozen constitutional amendments voters will decide on this election.

But in its analysis of six local newspapers’ stance on Amendment 9, Florida Today found that several editorial boards supported the measures but cited philosophical objections to deciding on disparate issues with a single vote.

Another strike against Amendment 9: It will also appear at the bottom of the ballot, where voters often skip issues, McManus said, so passage seems unlikely.

If the measure indeed fails, maybe Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission will think twice in the future before bundling.

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