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Solar amendment now at 75 percent of needed signatures

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A proposed constitutional amendment has crossed the 500,000 signatures line on its way to being approved for voter consideration on the 2016 ballot.

The utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar is sponsoring the amendment titled “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice.”

As of Tuesday morning, it had reported 513,375 valid signatures, according to the state Division of Elections. An initiative needs 683,149 to merit ballot placement. The latest signature tally puts it at 75 percent of its goal.

“We are pleased that our signature gathering efforts have brought us to this milestone, which clearly demonstrates the continued support for the smart solar amendment,” spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said.

The amendment is also under Supreme Court review, with legal briefs ordered for next month. The court has to OK a proposal’s language and ballot summary before it can go before voters.

If it does make it on the ballot, the proposal must receive approval from 60 percent of voters to be added to the state constitution.

It “establishes a right … for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use,” the current ballot summary says.

The proposed change also allows state and local governments to “retain their abilities” to regulate solar energy and would ensure traditional power users “are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access” for solar energy users.

A competing amendment sponsored by Floridians for Solar Choice, a coalition of progressive and conservative interests, threw in the towel on 2016 and is “exploring options for a 2018 campaign,” according to a spokeswoman.

As FloridaPolitics.com reported, a payment dispute with a signature-gathering firm made it unlikely that it would get enough signatures by the Feb. 1 deadline. That amendment now has 273,280 valid signatures.

Its language aims at lifting “barriers to supplying local solar electricity,” which opponents — including Attorney General Pam Bondi — have taken as allowing out-of-state concerns to operate without regulation.

Consumers for Smart Solar also has called into question a new monthly fee the competing amendment would create.

Floridians for Solar Choice attorney Bob Nabors, during oral arguments for that amendment, described a “standby charge” that would be “uniformly applied.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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