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Odd Florida offshore drilling amendment passes — along with a ban on indoor vaping

Green groups had expressed some consternation over the odd combination.

CREDIT: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images
CREDIT: Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images

A controversial constitutional amendment banning both offshore drilling and indoor vaping received a green light from voters on Tuesday, despite pushback from some who questioned the decision to group both issues together on the ballot.

Amendment 9 will prohibit oil and gas drilling within state waters, permanently banning the practice and enshrining it within Florida’s constitution. With 68.8 percent of the vote and and 99 percent of precincts reporting as of Wednesday morning, the measure passed overwhelmingly.

In a confusing quirk, however, Amendment 9 also includes a ban on vaping within indoor spaces, much to the consternation of voters and advocates. The strange combination is the work of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) which bundled several odd pairings together, including vaping and offshore drilling.

Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead argued prior to the election that such bundling efforts were unconstitutional. But the Florida Supreme Court ruled in mid-October that Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner was within his rights to let the proposals be bundled — a move that allowed Amendment 9 to appear before voters on Tuesday.

At least 35 organizations endorsed Amendment 9, according to the website Vote Yes on 9, including a number of environmental organizations. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) actively pushed for the measure, which also saw support from groups like the Center for Biological Diversity, Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Gulf Restoration Network.

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Still, some caveated their approval, in a nod to the controversy over the bundling furor. The League of Women Voters of Florida noted in the group’s endorsement of Amendment 9 that the organization’s opposition to offshore drilling “overrides our concern about putting vaping in the Constitution.”

Amendment 9’s chief opposition came from groups like the Florida Petroleum Council, Associated Industries of Florida, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Offshore drilling itself has long been a contentious topic in Florida. The practice is currently banned, which would make a constitutional ban appear redundant. Green groups, however, have pointed to efforts in the state legislature to overturn the ban as a sign that a constitutional amendment might be necessary to reign in drilling.

Opposition to offshore drilling is mostly bipartisan in Florida, but this election cycle has heavily centered environmental issues in the state, opening up Republican lawmakers to attacks from Democratic opponents. Along with issues like an ongoing controversy over “red tide” — one of two types of algae blooms plaguing the state — and recovery from Hurricane Michael, offshore drilling has persistently dogged candidates, even as progressives and conservatives alike failed to take a stance on Amendment 9.

The amendment’s passage on Tuesday is largely symbolic, but its implications will likely reverberate. Florida is a low-lying state deeply vulnerable to climate change, a reality voters are rallying around. With the Trump administration pushing to expand offshore drilling in virtually all federal waters, Amendment 9 could also play a crucial role. Florida has received a waiver exempting the state from the White House’s plans, but it is unclear to what extent that might hold true in the long-term.

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