Thursday, October 11, 2018

Voting on the Proposed Amendments

Election Day
November 6, 2018
Florida voters are faced with decisions about 12 proposed amendments to the state Constitution next month. Three were put on the ballot by the Florida Legislature, two by citizen initiative, and seven by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

In this post, I’ll briefly explain each amendment, identify supporters and opponents (click on a name to read stated reasons), and provide links to more information. For each I’ll also share how I plan to vote and why. 

My two primary sources were the Florida Division of Elections for bill texts and analyses, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, for interpretations, supporters and opponents. I also relied on news articles I've clipped over the course of the past year and recent Google searches.

Proposed by the Legislature

Each of the three Legislative Joint Resolutions would reduce the amount of future revenue that might otherwise be available to meet state and local needs. I believe a primary responsibility of government is to ensure that there is adequate funding to provide the rights, services and infrastructure required by the Constitution or state law. To do so while maintaining a balanced budget as also required by the Constitution, the Legislature must have the flexibility to raise taxes or eliminate exemptions or tax credits. Therefore, I OPPOSE AMENDMENTS 1, 2 AND 5.

Amendment 1 - Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption would increase the homestead exemption by $25,000 for homes valued at more than $100,000, thereby increasing to $75,000 from the current $50,000 the amount a homeowner can deduct from the valuation of their home in the calculation of property taxes. The Legislature’s staff estimates it would result in a loss of property tax revenue to Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities (but not school districts) of about $645 million in the first year alone. This could result in cuts to services or require higher local taxes to make up for it. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.


Amendment 2 - Limitations on Property Tax Assessments would make permanent what currently is a temporary cap of 10 percent on annual property value increases for vacation homes, apartments and commercial property, effectively limiting increases on tax bills. The current cap on these non-homestead properties expires in 2019. The Legislature’s Revenue Estimating Conference estimates it would result in a loss of property tax revenue to Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities (but not school districts) of about $688 million in the first year alone. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.

Supporters include Florida Association of Realtors, Florida TaxWatch and Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Amendment 5 - Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve any new or increased taxes or fees, and to eliminate existing tax credits or deductions, rather than a simple majority as under current law for nearly every bill related to taxes or fees. In addition, while bills in the Legislature often contain multiple provisions, this amendment requires that any tax or fee increase must stand by itself in a separate bill. For the full text, click here; for the Legislative Staff Analysis, click here.

Supporters include Florida Tax Watch and Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Policy Institute, Progress Florida, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Citizen Initiatives

The groups sponsoring these two proposals met the requirement to obtain more than 766,200 validated signatures of Florida voters in order to appear on the ballot.

Amendment 3 - Voter Control of Gambling in Florida, sponsored by Voters In Charge, would require approval of any new casino gambling through a citizen-initiative constitutional amendment. It defines casino gambling as games such as slot machines, blackjack, roulette, craps and keno, as well as an array of electronic and video games of chance. It would effectively stop the Legislature from passing laws to allow casino gambling, and stop both the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission from placing their own casino amendments on the ballot. Supporters include Disney Worldwide Services, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, League of Women Voters of Florida, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents are pari-mutuel operators who want the opportunity to have slot machines and games like blackjack and roulette. For the full text, click here; for the Substantive Analysis by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, click here.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, in explaining its support, says this amendment allows Florida voters to make any decisions regarding increases in casino gambling. But I agree with the Naples Daily News editorial which points out that “Two important principles we embrace seemingly come into conflict in this amendment: home rule and the right of residents to decide their destiny by voting…. Where this amendment fails is that it doesn’t give local control over whether there are casinos to local voters.” As much as I would not like a gambling operation to set up in my community, I don’t want to give up local control over that decision. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 3.

Amendment 4 - Voting Restoration Amendment, sponsored by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Inc., would allow people convicted of a felony who have completed their entire sentence to earn back the right to vote -- except for those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. It would take away from the Governor and Cabinet, acting as the State Board of Clemency, the power to determine and control the rights restoration process. For the full text, click here; for the Substantive Analysis by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, click here.

By way of background: During former Gov. Charlie Crist’s four-year term (2007-2010), the Clemency Board returned the right to vote to more than 150,000 former felons. In 2011, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet enacted stricter rules. They include a mandatory wait of five to seven years before ex-felons can apply to have their rights restored. Then there is another wait to appear before the Clemency Board, which meets just four times a year. Since the new rules went into effect, the Clemency Board has restored rights to about 3,000 of the 30,000 felons who’ve applied, and there is a backlog or more than 10,000 clemency applications. An estimated 1.5 million Floridians have been permanently disenfranchised because of felony convictions. That’s the highest number in the nation, and it accounts for nearly 10 percent of the total adult population in Florida. And it is widely recognized that those rules disproportionately affect African-Americans. (Miami-Herald; Brennan Center for Justice; Florida Phoenix and NYTimes)

Supporters include Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and League of Women Voters of Florida. The only opponent of record is Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy. While it is important to protect the integrity of our elections, we must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing voter fraud. Once a former felon has completed the sentence imposed by the courts, h/she should have her/his voting rights restored. I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 4.

Proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission

Unlike amendments put on the ballot by any other means, amendments by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) were not constrained to just one subject per amendment. Six of its amendments bundled two, three or even four substantive changes into a single amendment. Last month, the state Supreme Court threw Amendment 8 off the ballot, saying it misled voters by not clearly stating its true purpose and never mentioning charter schools by name. (Tampa Bay Times). That leaves five bundled amendments along with two single-subject CRC proposals for voters to decide.

Amendment 6 - Rights of Crime Victims; Judges would vastly expand the scope of victim’s rights under the state Constitution; increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75; and require courts and judges to interpret laws and rules for themselves rather than rely on interpretations by government agencies. For the full text, click here.

The most weighty and controversial of the three changes is the first part, which “will either be the greatest expansion of victims’ rights in Florida history or upend the criminal justice system as we know it, depending on who you ask,” according to The Florida Times-Union. It would add five pages of victim’s rights to the state Constitution.

Supporters include 37 Florida sheriffs, Marsy’s Law for Florida, and a long list of elected state officials including Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. Opponents include Florida Public Defender Association, ACLU of Florida and League of Women Voters of Florida. I share opponents’ concern that this amendment would upset the balance between the rights of victims and people accused of crimes by permanently deleting the part of the Constitution that ensures balancing the rights of all involved in a criminal case. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 6.

Amendment 7 - First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities would create a supermajority requirement for universities to impose new or increase existing student fees; enshrine in the Constitution guidelines for the State College System; and mandate that employers or the state pay a death benefit to first responders and members of the military killed in the line of duty. For the full text, click here.

The third part is the most significant. Florida law already provides death benefits to survivors of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, firefighters and members of the National Guard. This amendment would make the law more permanent by enshrining the requirement in the Constitution. It addition, it would broaden the group of people covered by adding paramedics, emergency medical technicians and members of the U.S. military who are residents of Florida or stationed here. An analysis by the state Department of Management Services could not determine how much the additional military benefits would cost but noted that Florida has more than 90,000 men and women on active duty or in the reserves.

Supporters include the Association of Florida Colleges (because of the amendment’s second part). Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida. To me, this is a classic case of an unfunded mandate. It not only provides no funding source, but the state entity charged with estimating its cost was unable to do so. I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 7.

Amendment 9 - Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces would prohibit oil drilling beneath waters controlled by Florida; and prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, at indoor workplaces. For the full text, click here.

The more significant part of the amendment is the ban on offshore drilling. State law has prohibited offshore oil and gas drilling since 1988, but a constitutional amendment would give the ban more permanence. The amendment defines “state waters” as about nine miles off the western and southern coastlines and at least three miles off the eastern coastline, and also includes bays, estuaries and other waters under Florida’s jurisdiction.

Supporters include Rethink Energy Florida, Everglades Coalition, Florida Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, and League of Women Voters of Florida. Opponents include Florida Petroleum Council, Associated Industries of Florida, Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, and Florida Chamber of Commerce.

I support protecting the environment and Florida's tourism industry by prohibiting offshore drilling. I also share the LWV’s belief that voter rejection of this amendment would signal the Legislature and federal government that Floridians don’t care about offshore drilling. I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 9.

Amendment 10 - State and Local Government Structure and Operation would:
  1. require the Legislature to hold its session in early January in even-numbered years;
  2. create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement;
  3. mandate the existence of a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs; and
  4. require all counties to elect a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and Clerk of Circuit Court.

Full text here.

Part 4 is the most controversial part of the amendment. It would make the five local constitutional offices — sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of the court and property appraiser — mandatory, require elections for the offices in all 67 counties, and prohibit charter counties from abolishing or modifying those offices.

The primary supporters are the CRC members who proposed it and several Central Florida public officials. Opponents include League of Women Voters of Florida.

Most of the provisions already are current practices, but Part 4 is a clear effort to restrict the powers of local government – specifically those that operate under voter-approved county charters. Voters in eight of Florida’s 67 counties have approved charters that changed or eliminated at least one constitutional office. Miami-Dade, for example, does not elect a sheriff. These offices would have to be restored if this amendment passes. I believe voters in counties and municipalities should be able to choose their form of government, and this amendment takes away local control. Therefore, I OPPOSE AMENDMENT 10.

Amendment 11 - Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes would repeal the state’s ability to prohibit non-citizens from buying, owning and selling property; delete obsolete language having to do with high-speed rail in Florida; and delete a provision that forces the state to prosecute criminal suspects under the law they were originally charged under, even if the Legislature changes that law. Full text here; CRC Judicial Committee Analysis here.

The most substantive part of this bundled amendment is Part 3. The Constitution currently contains a “Savings Clause” dating to 1885 that prevents the Legislature from making changes to substantive criminal laws, including sentencing laws, retroactive. It requires the statute in effect at the time of a crime to govern the sentence an offender receives for commission of that crime. For example, in 2014, the Legislature amended drug sentencing laws. A defendant who committed certain drug offenses on June 30, 2014, would serve five times longer in prison than a defendant who committed that same offense one day later. A repeal of the Savings Clause will allow to the Legislature to retroactively apply lesser sentencing to prisoners currently in prison. As a result, the Legislature would be allowed to apply new sentencing guidelines to prisoners currently incarcerated, allowing an earlier release and possibly reduce expenses to the state. (CRC Judicial Committee Analysis)

Supporters include State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who has been a leading voice calling for reform of the criminal justice system, and Sandy D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association and Florida State University, who said that changing the savings clause would be the most progressive reform to Florida’s criminal justice system since the establishment of public defenders to represent poor defendants. (Florida Times-Union) Given the condition of Florida’s prisons (e.g. see here), I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 11.

Amendment 12 - Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers would expand ethics rules for on lobbying for compensation by former public officers, notably by expanding from two to six years the time that many officials would have to wait before they could do so. Full text here.

It has been called “one of the most complex questions on the ballot” (LWVF), with a number of different elements for voters to consider. The one that generates the most headlines is the six-year ban. The current ban on lobbying after leaving office is two years, and applies only to the government body or agency that person belonged to.

Supporters include Integrity Florida. Opponents include the Florida Chamber. The Florida LWV takes no position because, they say, although there is need for lobbying reform, “six years might be onerous, and this amendment does not address the real issue regarding lobbying, which is the impact of money in political campaigns.” I agree with the Naples Daily News Editorial Board that “This amendment alone won’t clean up all that can be addressed to improve government ethics in the state. Campaign finance reform to control the influence of money on political campaigns and the meting out of harsher, quicker and more frequent penalties by the Florida Ethics Commission also would help. Amendment 12 is an improvement, however.” I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 12.

Amendment 13 - Ends Dog Racing would phase out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering, but not affect other gaming activities. Full text here.

Florida has 12 of the nation’s 18 dog-racing tracks. Dog racing – usually greyhounds – is one of several “pari-mutuel” wagering sports in Florida. (Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering)

“The state’s 12 dog tracks took in $240 million in bets during the year that ended in June 2016, half the amount wagered a decade before,” according to the Florida Times-Union. “The state says it now spends more money regulating the greyhound industry than it receives in tax revenue from the races. But dogs still race in Florida because the tracks must exist if pari-mutuel companies want to keep open their more-lucrative poker rooms. Under state law, only pari-mutuel facilities like horse tracks, jai alai frontons and greyhound kennel clubs can operate card rooms. If greyhound tracks stop their races, the card rooms would have to close.”

Supporters include Grey2KUSA, the Humane Society of the United States, and League of Women Voters of Florida. Opponents include Florida Greyhound Association and the NRA. I agree with the Naples Daily News that “the state shouldn’t force a business to operate in ways that have proven unprofitable.” I SUPPORT AMENDMENT 13.

To summarize how I will vote

Amendment 1 - NO
Amendment 2 - NO
Amendment 3 - NO
Amendment 4 - YES
Amendment 5 - NO
Amendment 6 - NO
Amendment 7 - NO
Amendment 9 - YES
Amendment 10 - NO
Amendment 11 - YES
Amendment 12 - YES
Amendment 13 - YES

I hope my research helped you understand what each of the amendments would mean, and who stands to benefit if each is passed. I also hope helps you think more critically about how you will vote than you might have without it.

Stay tuned next for my posts about the candidates for the Collier Mosquito Control Commission Board, the judicial candidates, and the proposed Collier Sales Surtax.