Linking bans on oil drilling, vaping draws criticism

By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida’s leading oil and gas lobbyist is brushing up on electronic cigarettes and vaping.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, called it “surreal” and “bizarre” to watch the Florida Constitution Revision Commission this week overwhelmingly approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would combine a ban on nearshore oil and gas drilling with a ban on vaping and electronic cigarettes in workplaces.

With the commission’s approval, the proposed constitutional amendment will go before voters during the Nov. 6 general election.

“It just doesn’t make sense that they should be linked together,” Mica said. “You should be able to make decisions about your public health and your economic viability separately.”

The proposal, which is expected to appear on the ballot as Amendment 9, was one of eight measures -- covering 20 different issues -- the commission approved on Monday for the November election.

The Legislature had also previously approved three proposals to go before voters, while two other measures --- dealing with future expansions of gambling and restoring voting rights of felons who have served their sentences --- have reached the ballot through petition drives. That makes a total of 13 proposed constitutional amendments voters will decide.

The commission meets every 20 years to review the state Constitution and propose changes.

Six of the commission’s proposals that advanced to the ballot Monday bundle two or three topics, such as the amendment tying together drilling and vaping. Two of the amendments are standalone measures, including one that would ban greyhound racing in the state.

Mica contends mixing the proposed vaping ban with the proposed drilling ban, is part of a “logrolling” effort.

“We’ve become victimized by something that’s maybe more unpopular,” Mica said of polling he’s seen on e-cigarettes. “I don’t think that is what the originators of the Constitution Revision Commission had in mind.”

The proposal seeks to add “vapor generating electronic devices” to a 2002 voter-approved constitutional amendment that banned smoking tobacco in workplaces, including gathering spots such as restaurants.

The drilling portion of the amendment would put in the Constitution a ban on Florida granting leases to drill for oil or natural gas in state-controlled coastal waters

The drilling measure comes as Florida officials, including Gov. Rick Scott, have opposed plans by President Donald Trump’s administration to allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters beyond the nation’s outer continental shelf --- a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida's West Coast and three nautical miles off the East Coast.

The proposed amendment on drilling and vaping passed the commission Monday with little discussion.

Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, chairman of the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, said the drilling and vaping issues were linked because the sponsors of the different proposals worked together with a moniker of “clean air, clean water.”

State law already includes a prohibition on offshore oil and gas drilling. But putting a ban in the Constitution would make it more permanent and harder to change in the future.

“We’ll stand on our merits of Floridians being interested in American energy production, creating more energy and more jobs, with the knowledge that the Legislature has already acted on this for the foreseeable future, and why wouldn’t that be enough?” Mica said. “We just think it’s a bad idea to do that (put it in the Constitution), and we think Floridians will agree.”

Commission Chairman Carlos Beruff, one of 14 appointees of Gov. Rick Scott to the 37-member panel, said he was pleased with the outcome of the commission’s work, including the proposed drilling ban.

“After months of in-depth research and debate, the CRC has narrowed down thousands of comments and ideas into eight final revisions for voter consideration,” Beruff said in a prepared statement this week.” From protecting our state and territorial waters from oil drilling to strengthening our ethics laws, I commend my fellow commissioners for their hard work and leadership representing the people of Florida.”

It remains unclear whether voters will support the commission’s work.

The 1978 Constitution Revision Commission failed to get any of its seven measures approved.

Twenty years later, commissioners took lessons from the 1978 group and were able to get voters to approve eight of nine proposals, including the creation of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and revamping the state Cabinet.

It has become harder, however, to pass constitutional amendments since the 1998 measures were on the ballot. Due to a subsequent change, constitutional amendments now require support from 60 percent of voters -- rather than majorities -- to pass.

News Service of Florida