This year, on two separate election days, Florida voters had — and will have — the opportunity to vote on two different constitutional amendments.
Amendment 4: Florida Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Equipment
(Editor’s Note: At press time, the August 30th primary had yet to occur and therefore, it isn’t known whether Amendment 4 received voter approval. However, if approved, Amendment 4 will take effect on January 1, 2018 and expire on December 31, 2037.)
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 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.
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.
Most recently, voters approved the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment, Amendment 1, by an overwhelming 75 percent. Similarly, in 2002, Florida voters approved a ballot initiative creating constitutional rights for pregnant pigs. Thus, if the past is any indication of our future, there is a strong likelihood that Florida’s voters will show strong support for this year’s two solar energy amendments.
(Austin S. Turner is a land use and environmental law attorney at Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A., in Fort Myers. He counsels clients on land use entitlements, rezoning and other property ownership matters. He also assists clients with legal issues concerning property contamination and water regulations, advocating on their behalf before various state and federal agencies. Turner is a member of REIS, the Lee BIA and the Lee County Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. He is also a member of the Urban Land Institute’s local chapter and serves on the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership NEXT committee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: 239-344-1178.)