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On the Ballot: Constitutional Amendments

on the ballot Florida constitutional amendments

Florida voters will have six proposed constitutional amendments on their ballots in November. Four of the amendments were put on the ballot by citizen initiative and two were put on the ballot by joint resolution of the Florida Legislature.

A citizen initiative is a way for Florida’s citizens to propose amendments to the State Constitution. To place an amendment on the ballot, the signatures equal to 8 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last presidential election in Florida must be collected. For the 2020 ballot, 766,200 signatures were required. Each signature must be verified by the Supervisor of Elections in the county where the voter who signed the petition is registered. For more, see Laws governing the initiative process in Florida.

A joint resolution is the way the Florida Legislature proposes amendments to the State Constitution. It must pass each chamber by a three-fifths vote. Joint resolutions do not require the approval of the governor.

Below is a brief explanation of each amendment on the 2020 ballot, the supporters and opponents I was able to identify, and where you can find more information.

My primary sources were the Florida Division of Elections for bill texts and analyses, the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) for interpretations, supporters and opponents. I also watched the Amendments Forum organized by Collier Citizens Council, which presented pros and cons, and conducted Google searches.

Amendment 1 – Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections

The Florida Constitution currently says, “Every citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered.”

Amendment 1 changes the first two words of that provision. It provides that “Only a citizen of the United States who is at least eighteen years of age and who is a permanent resident of the state, if registered as provided by law, shall be an elector of the county where registered.”

The Amendment was sponsored by Florida Citizen Voters, a dark-money Political Action Committee (PAC) entirely funded by a nonprofit called Citizen Voters, Inc. It is one of many identical amendments being proposed across the country, according to the website citizenvoters.vote.

CitizenVoters.vote says the intent of the amendment is to “prevent non-citizen voting. They say most state constitutions including Florida’s do not specifically require citizenship in order to vote. And they say this change is required to close a loophole.

Through 9/18/20, the PAC has spent $8.3 million to get it on the ballot. Much of that spending was for signature gathering, canvassing, and signature reviews. See campaign finance activity here.

Other than the sponsor of the amendment, I found no organized supporters.

Opponents include Florida TaxWatch, which says amendment 1 is “a solution in search of a problem. The LWLVF also opposed the amendment. They say, “Amendment 1 would make no substantive change to Florida’s Constitution, which already limits voting to US Citizens.’

The state’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference says the amendment will have no impact on state or local government costs or revenues and no effect on the state’s economy.

To summarize, a YES vote would change the wording of the Constitution from “every” citizen to “only a” citizen can vote. A NO vote would leave the constitution as is.

Amendment 2 – Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage

Amendment 2 raises the minimum wage to $10.00 per hour from the current $8.56 per hour effective September 30th, 2021. Annually thereafter, it raises the minimum wage by $1.00 per hour until it reaches $15.00 in 2026. Future minimum wage increases will then be adjusted annually for inflation.

This citizen initiative is sponsored by Florida for a Fair Wage, a PAC chaired by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan. His firm’s $4.6 million contributions largely financed the $5.2 million the PAC spent through 9/18/20. Much of the spending was to collect signatures. See campaign finance activity here.

Florida for a Fair Wage says, “the Fair Wage Amendment ensures that all Floridians can have the dignity of earning a fair wage for a hard day’s work.”

Supporters say that by increasing the minimum wage incrementally, employers will be better able to absorb the increase. They say Florida’s current minimum wage yields $17,800 a year for a full-time worker, less than a living wage for a family of four.

Supporters include the AFL-CIO, Organize Florida, and the LWVF. They say the increase will stimulate the economy, business activity, and job growth. They say it will also reduce dependence on safety net programs like Medicaid.

Opponents include the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Florida TaxWatch, and Sarasota Rep. Tommy Gregory. They say the increase will likely force layoffs, reduced employee hours or tips, and/or increased prices to consumers. They say it will also dramatically affect Florida’s tourism industry.

There is also concern that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour could have a major disruptive effect on childcare in Florida — for both providers and consumers. The Early Learning Coalition is not suggesting through its analysis that wages should not increase,” according to Florida Politics. Rather, the group is asking the Legislature to consider revising the childcare subsidy income requirements.

The state’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference says “state and local government costs will increase to comply with the new minimum wage levels. Additional annual wage costs will be approximately $16 million in 2022, increasing to about $540 million in 2027 and thereafter.”

To summarize, a YES vote would raise the minimum wage incrementally to $15 per hour by 2026. A NO vote would maintain the current minimum wage of $8.56/hour.

Amendment 3 – All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet

Amendment 3 would replace Florida’s closed primaries with a form of primary known as a “Top Two” or “Jungle” primary. All candidates would appear on the same primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election.

With all the candidates on one primary ballot, all registered voters — regardless of party affiliation — would be able to vote in primaries for state legislature, governor, and cabinet.

The amendment is sponsored by All Voters Vote, a PAC founded by Miami health care investor Mike Fernandez. According to Spectrum News 9, Fernandez is a billionaire financier who had been active in Florida Republican fundraising circles but grew disenchanted with the anti-immigration tilt of his party under former Gov. Rick Scott and, most recently, President Trump. Fernandez put $6.2 million of his own money into the campaign. All Voters Vote has spent $7.1 million through 9/18/20, largely for petition gathering and consulting services. See campaign finance activity here.

All Voters Vote says Florida’s closed primaries are decided by the small, extreme wings of each party. They say that by giving all voters a chance to vote, politicians will become answerable to the majority of voters, not just a select few.

Florida TaxWatch, another supporter, says, “Increasing access and availability to exercise the fundamental right to vote is positive, even if the mechanism seeking to do so may be imperfect. Amendment 3 would increase this access, and has the potential to bring millions of voters into the process of self governing.”

Opponents include the AFL-CIO, Democratic Party of Florida, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Conservation Voters, Florida Legislative Black Caucus, Florida People’s Advocacy Center, Florida State Conference NAACP, Green Party of Florida, League of Women Voters of Florida, Organize Florida, People Over Profits, and Republican Party of Florida.

The Democratic and Republican Parties of Florida say it would allow special interests to force the parties to have fewer candidates running for office and make it easier for special interest groups to manipulate the elections process.

The LWVF says, “Top-Two open primaries would have a strong adverse impact on African-American representation in Florida.” They and leaders of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus cite an analysis by the group People Over Profits released in August that predicted the proposed change would make it tougher for Black candidates in nearly half of the 17 Black-majority districts in the House and for four Black senators representing majority-minority districts. The Chairman of People Over Profits is Sean Shaw, a former state lawmaker who ran for attorney general in 2018. That analysis is disputed by Glenn Burins, chairman of All Voters Vote.

Instead of the Top-Two open primary, the LWVF supports an open primary system that would allow for the broadest possible voter participation.” According to the LWVF in Study & Action 2017-2019, “The Open Primary would retain a party ballot for voters to choose without having to register with the party holding the primary. All voters would be allowed to participate in an open primary regardless of their party affiliation or lack thereof. Voters would not be allowed to cross party lines to choose candidates from a different party on an individual race-by-race.”

The state’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference says “It is probable that the proposed amendment will result in additional local government costs to conduct elections in Florida.” It projects that the combined costs across Florida’s 67 counties will range from $5.2 million to $5.8 million for each of the first three election cycles occurring in even-numbered years after the amendment’s effective date, with the costs for each of the intervening years dropping to less than $450,000. It estimates the amendment would have no effect on the state’s economy.

To summarize, a YES vote would have all candidates on the same primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters in a contest, regardless of party affiliation, would proceed to the general election. A NO vote would continue the current closed primary election process

Amendment 4 – Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments

Amendment 4 would require constitutional amendments to be approved by 60 percent of voters at two successive general elections to become effective. Currently, an amendment that is approved by 60 percent of voters at one general election becomes part of the constitution.

The Amendment was sponsored by the political action committee Keep Our Constitution Clean PC, a dark-money group whose individual donors are concealed. According to the Tampa Bay Times, activists involved in other petition drives believe the group is linked to the utility industry, which opposes a ballot measure that would deregulate the state’s monopoly utilities and allow alternate energy companies a better shot at the lucrative state market. That measure did not make it onto the ballot this year but if it does in the future, this amendment would make it much more difficult to pass.

The PAC has spent $8.8 million to get on the ballot through 9/18/20, largely for petition gathering. See campaign finance activity here.

Keep Our Constitution Clean PC says the amendment would put safeguards in place to limit what it calls “legislating through the constitution.” It says its ”goal is to ensure that voters are given the opportunity to fully understand the immediate and future impacts of any proposed changes to our state constitution.” 

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida TaxWatch also support the measure.

Opponents say the passage of No. 4 would add more burden to an already expensive and difficult process for citizens to exercise their rights to decide the contents of their constitution through direct democracy, and provide well-funded corporate interests a second chance to defeat publicly popular amendments that initially pass with 60% voter approval. They say most voters are capable of reading and understanding proposed amendments the first time and that no second vote is necessary to help them understand the full ramifications of their first vote.

Opponents include AFL-CIO, ACLU, Common Cause, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Florida Immigration Coalition, Florida Center For Fiscal and Economic Policy, LWVF and SEIU.

The state’s Financial Impact Estimating Conference says, “It is probable that the proposed amendment will result in additional state and local government costs to conduct elections in Florida” but that the costs “cannot be estimated at this time.”

To summarize, a YES vote would require all proposed state constitutional amendments to be approved a vote of 60 percent of the voters in two successive elections, instead of one. A NO vote would retain the current process of amending the constitution.

Amendment 5 – Limitations on Homestead Property Tax Assessments; Increased Portability Period to Transfer Accrued Benefit

Amendment 5 would increase, from 2 years to 3 years, the period during which Save Our Homes benefits can be transferred when a taxpayer sells a homesteaded home and then buys another one, effective Jan. 1, 2021. Save Our Homes is a state property tax benefit that limits the increase in the assessment of homestead properties to 3 percent per year.

The proposal was put on the ballot by unanimous vote of the Florida Legislature and is supported by Florida TaxWatch.

Supporters say the proposal fixes a potential pitfall for portability because homestead exemptions take effect on Jan. 1, meaning the sale of a home late in the year would effectively reduce the portability from two years to little more than one year and a few days.

The League of Women Voters of Florida opposes the amendment because of its position that “no tax sources or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the Constitution.”

The Legislature’s Revenue Estimating Conference estimated that the amendment would reduce local property taxes by $1.8 million in its first fiscal year, growing to $10.2 million a year in five years.

To summarize, a YES vote would extend the portability of the Save Our Homes tax exemption from two years to three years. A NO vote would maintain the current two-year portability.

Amendment 6 – Ad Valorem Tax Discount for Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans Who Had Permanent, Combat-Related Disabilities

Amendment 6 also relates to Florida’s homestead property tax exemption and was put on the ballot by the Legislature. Specifically, Amendment 6 deals with an additional property tax benefit that disabled veterans receive. Currently, that benefit expires upon their death. This amendment would allow the benefit to be transferred to the veteran’s surviving spouse, effective Jan. 1, 2021.

Supporters include Florida TaxWatch. It says the amendment is “another way to keep Florida’s veteran population strong and maintain the state’s popular retirement destination.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida opposes the amendment because of its position that no tax sources or revenue should be provided for in the Constitution.

The Revenue Estimating Conference estimates that the amendment would reduce local school tax revenues by $400K the first year and $1.6 million a year thereafter, and reduce local non-school tax revenues by $600K the first year and $2.4 million a year thereafter.

To summarize: a YES vote would allow the veteran’s homestead property tax discount to be transferred to the surviving spouse. A NO vote would mean the veteran’s discount would continue to expire upon the veteran’s death.

For more information

On the proposed amendments:

On state primary election types:

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