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Florida Supreme Court rules that Energy Choice Initiative ballot summary is misleading

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a ballot initiative known as the Florida Energy Choice Initiative will not appear on the 2020 ballot. The initiative was close to getting the number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot, but the court ruled that its language was misleading.

The court took issue with the initiative’s ballot summary, which reads, “Grants customers of investor-owned utilities the right to choose their electricity provider and to generate and sell electricity. Requires the Legislature to adopt laws providing for competitive wholesale and retail markets for electricity generation and supply, and consumer protections, by June 1, 2025, and repeals inconsistent statutes, regulations, and orders. Limits investor-owned utilities to construction, operation, and repair of electrical transmission and distribution systems. Municipal and cooperative utilities may opt into competitive markets.”

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The Attorney General contended that “the ballot title and summary fail to adequately inform the voters of ‘the true meaning and ramifications of the proposed amendment,’” and 25 parties filed briefs opposing the initiative. 

Opinions regarding constitutional amendments are limited to whether the amendment satisfies the single-subject requirement and whether the ballot title and summary are clear. The court does not address the “merits or wisdom” of initiatives. In this case, the court held that “the ballot summary affirmatively misleads voters to believe the Initiative grants a right to sell electricity.” 

The ruling stated that the initiative did not grant “a freestanding constitutional right to sell electricity,” but the ballot summary said that it did. The ruling concluded, “Accordingly, this Initiative should not be included in the ballot. It is so ordered.”

In a press release from Citizens for Energy Choice (CFEC), which sponsored the initiative, CFEC Chair Alex Patton said, “The committee obviously sought a different outcome, but we respect the rule of law.” 

Rich Blaser, co-CEO of Infinite Energy and a major funder of CFEC, said “Sadly, Florida’s ratepayers lose again. Polls showed 80% of us wanted to take control of our energy spending, usage, generation, and to free alternative energy from the anticompetitive control of monopoly utilities.”

Darin Cook, who wrote an op-ed in Alachua Chronicle supporting the initiative, said, “Capitalism is the bedrock of American ingenuity and strength. Because the Florida Supreme Court ruled against the Energy Choice Amendment, Floridians lost their opportunity of choosing their electricity supplier. Floridians now must continue with an antiquated, state-sponsored monopolistic system over 100 years old. Six to seven billion dollars in savings for Floridians just went up in flames. Denying choice is about as un-American as it gets.”

The press release said the organization is not sure about their next steps. Patton said, “While we were confident in our plan to gather the remaining signatures required, we cannot overcome this last obstacle for the 2020 ballot. As to what is next, it is too soon to speculate. We will review the data, seek legal advice, and regroup after a detailed post-mortem.”