Florida Ballot Initiative Asks Voters to Ban Offshore Drilling and Vaping in Offices

Critics have sued, saying the "bundled" initiative violates the First Amendment.



Do you support off-shore drilling, but are not quite sold on vaping in offices? Maybe you think e-cigarettes in the workplace are good for public health but more fossil-fuel excavation would do damage to the planet?

In most states, voters and legislators would be able to parse these issues separately. But not in Florida, pending a decision of the state Supreme Court. Today the court agreed to hear a challenge to whether three amendments should be kept off the November ballot because they improperly combined unrelated issues into the same ballot initiatives.

In dispute are Amendments 7, 9, and 11. The first asks voters to sign off on the creation of state-funded death benefits for the spouses of active duty military personnel and also changes to how state universities approve fee increases. Amendment 9 bans both vaping and off-shore drilling. Amendment 11 repeals a number of constitutional provisions that alternatively require the state to develop a high-speed rail system and prohibit certain foreign residents from owning property.

If you are wondering what kind of signature-gathering campaign cobbled together these initiatives, the answer is none. These nebulous amendments made it onto the ballot thanks to a Florida oddity known as the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC).

Created back in the 1960s, the CRC is comprised of 36 unelected commissioners plus the attorney general, who meet once every 20 years to draft constitutional amendments that are then sent directly to voters for consideration. The original purpose was to make it easier to change the Florida Constitution without having to go through a heavily gerrymandered legislature. But over time that emphasis on structural constitutional changes has given way to the more routine political and regulatory issues.

"The focus has shifted over time not just in the CRC, but also in the citizens' initiatives," says Mary Atkins, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. "There has been some creep."

Few of the seven CRC-sponsored initiatives this year deal with root constitutional issues. Instead they range from a prohibition on dog racing to a loosening of charter school laws.

In an attempt to avoid "voter fatigue," the CRC decided to package what started as some 20 or so proposals into just seven initiatives. For some critics, this isn't just a bizarre and inappropriate way to make law but an affront of voters' First Amendment rights. A lawsuit filed by former Florida Elections Commissioner Robert Barnas and former Florida Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead says that six of the CRC's seven proposed amendments violate "the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports."

Last week a lower court judge agreed with these arguments, tossing amendments 7, 9, and 11. Two other amendments proposed by the CRC—including the one loosening charter school regulations and another that packaged together various judicial reforms—were tossed for having imprecise or confusing language. Attorney General Pam Bondi, who sits on the CRC, has appealed this decision, demanding that the ballot initiatives be reinstated.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides, Florida's constitutional revision process has gone off the rails. Ballot initiatives can play an important role in moving the ball on issues where legislators are way behind the voting public (see marijuana legalization) or soliciting popular opinion on major governmental changes. But to work, initiatives need to be clear, concise, and simple, so that voters understand what they are voting on.

Florida's CRC is asking citizens to behave like elected legislators, wading through regulatory minutia and weighing the pros and cons of logrolls they had no say in putting together. At best, this will result in confusion and frustration. At worst, it will lead voters to sign off on a policy they don't support in order to advance a policy they do.

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  1. I don’t know about vaping, but I sure wouldn’t want people doing offshore drilling in their offices. Take it outside.

    1. Fuck off slaver. I built my office deep in the gulf for a reason, and I will do what I want.

      1. But, externalities!

    2. I was pretty sure someone would get to this joke fast, but I had to check.

    3. Duck that: I’m all into offshore vaping.

  2. If only we could preclude Congress from passing bundles as well.

    1. [snaps suspenders]

      Yeah…..that’d be great.

      [sips from coffee mug]

  3. “The first asks voters to sign off on the creation of state-funded death benefits for the spouses of active duty military personnel and also changes to how state universities approve fee increases.”

    Nice one. I have an amendment which gives cute cuddly puppies to comfort cancer patients, while increasing occupational license taxes.

  4. What about offshore vaping? Or office drilling?

    1. Please report any office drillings you witness to HR.

      1. Oh, HR? I thought you said Penthouse.

        1. Let me redraft my report…

      2. must turn over video?

    2. “Office drilling” is why Les Moonves got fired.

  5. Sure.
    Let’s ban offshore drilling and keep our country dependent on such wonderful democracies as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, keep more people unemployed and watch the price of gasoline go up…and don’t forget to ban vaping to show what a tolerant, free country we are.

    1. Look, someone needs to prop up Venezuela and it ain’t gonna be Venezuela.

      1. Maybe Cuba can prop up Venezuela.
        All the proggies tell me Cuba is a real paradise.

    2. Don’t worry, California is mandating renewable energy by 2045. They’ll do much less damage when the power keeps going out and people have to choose between AC and dinner.

  6. “offshore drilling” was my nickname at swim camp.

  7. This ballot questions are clearly nonsense.

    But what about this:

    “the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports.”

    Without my secret decoder ring, my copy of the 1st Amendment is missing this specific right.

    1. You don’t see a first amendment right to support one thing without also being forced to support a second thing?

      I suppose you don’t see a first amendment right to not support, say, Union politicking either?

      1. I don’t see that in voting on gov’t fx. Expression of support’s not the same thing as gov’t decisions, esp. when it’s a secret ballot.

  8. Floridians might end up voting to require Pat Buchanan vape on an offshore oil platform.

  9. I realize it’s untenable nowadays, but if I could chain smoke at my desk I would be a happier worker (for a while at least). Vaping never really worked for me because there wasn’t the signal to stop ingesting nicotine that the end of a cigarette served as. And the water vapor felt harsher on my lungs than the smoke. So I gave it all up except for the occasional night out and now I have to figure out how to lose 15 pounds. Thanks Obama.

    1. And the water vapor felt harsher on my lungs than the smoke.

      I’m tempted to ask two questions:

      1. What the hell are you smoking?
      2. What the hell are you vaping?

    2. Out of some misplaced concern for your wellbeing, I would suggest buying a better vape rig and giving it a chance. It’s true that it can easily become a ‘nicotine binky’ for the very reason that it doesn’t have the obvious end-point of a cigarette, but it’s easily worth the benefit of smoking inside without any negative consequences on your home.

      Plus, if you work in a tall building you can vape on the elevator or bathrooms at work and will probably never be caught.

      The most important fact about vaping is that most people will start feeling sick for a few weeks after they start, but it’s not the vapor causing that issue it’s because you stopped smoking. Not everyone gets it, and people get it to a greater or lesser extent, but you’ll feel 1000x better after it passes.

      My lung capacity is way, way up three years later and I still smoke a lot of pot. If I didn’t live in Texas, I’d probably vape that too.

    3. If you can vape in the office, I can microwave my curried fish in the office.

  10. I’m sold on leaving me alone.

  11. From the state that brought you, and passed, a Constitutional Amendment to protect pregnant pigs …

  12. I’m not seeing this as a First Amendment violation. Incredibly stupid policy and bad for voters but not necessarily unconstitutional. I think the judge was on a lot stronger ground when he tossed the proposals for vagueness.

  13. Thanks for sharing this article. I will visit your blog regularly for some latest post.

  14. Florida and California again seem to be competing for the most retarded state,

  15. So can I propose a ballot measure that would ban all cars, guns, tobacco and e-cigarettes, grant automatic citizenship to all illegal immigrants, raise the minimum wage to $25 an hour, AND raise the tax rate 10,000% on anyone who has voted democrat in the past 5 elections?

    1. By the time they read the fine print, it’ll be too late.

  16. Just trying for more efficient nannying.

  17. Well, if we apply state-level precedents, it’s very obvious that it shouldn’t be allowed.

    After all, this is the same state whose Supreme Court in 2000 blocked a ballot initiative over a clause saying the state “shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting” on the grounds that public employment, public education, and public contracting were three unrelated issues that the initiative improperly bundled.

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