Vot­ers will de­cide on 12 amend­ments for Florida

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH KOH ekoh@mi­ami­her­ald.com

When Florid­i­ans head to the bal­lot box Tues­day, they will en­counter a list of can­di­dates ask­ing for their vote for seats in the state House to the U.S. Se­nate. Among the choices they must make will also be one of the long­est lists of pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional changes in decades, from bet­ting on dog rac­ing to im­ple­ment­ing a ban on pub­lic of­fi­cials lob­by­ing for six years af­ter they leave of­fice.

The 12 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments on this year’s bal­lot are the most since 1998, when the state’s Con­sti­tu­tion Re­vi­sion Com­mis­sion – which meets once every 20 years – put nine of 13 amend­ments on the bal­lot. The Con­sti­tu­tion Re­vi­sion Com­mis­sion con­vened this year and placed eight amend­ments on the bal­lot.

In some cases, mea­sures have been grouped to­gether, mean­ing vot­ers will have to choose to ap­prove or re­ject dis­parate pro­pos­als that have been linked in one amend­ment. Florid­i­ans will have to de­cide whether they want to ban both va­p­ing in­doors and off­shore oil and gas drilling, and if they want to re­quire Mi­ami-Dade to elect its sher­iff and cre­ate a state counter-ter­ror­ism of­fice and add an ex­ist­ing vet­er­ans af­fairs depart- ment to the con­sti­tu­tion.

To be ap­proved, any con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment

re­quires 60 per­cent of the vote. Here’s what this year’s amend­ments do:

Amend­ment 1, In­creased Homestead Prop­erty Tax Ex­emp

tion would raise the por­tion of a home’s value that can be ex­empted from non-school prop­erty taxes. The Leg­is­la­ture voted to re­fer the ex­emp­tion to the bal­lot in 2017, and the pro­posed changes would ap­ply to the as­sessed value of a homestead prop­erty be­tween $100,000 and $125,000, rais­ing the max­i­mum ex­emp­tion to $75,000.

The shift could save homeowners a cou­ple hun­dred dol­lars, but a leg­isla­tive staff anal­y­sis

es­ti­mated lo­cal gov­ern­ments – which rely on prop­erty taxes for rev­enue – would lose about $645 mil­lion in the first year if the ex­emp­tion, ef­fec­tive Jan. 1, is ap­proved.

Amend­ment 2, Lim­i­ta­tions on Prop­erty Tax

As­sess­ments, an­other prop­erty tax pro­posal re­ferred by the Leg­is­la­ture, would ce­ment an ex­ist­ing cap on non-homestead prop­erty as­sess­ments. Such prop­erty tax as­sess­ment in­creases have been lim­ited to 10 per­cent of the pre­vi­ous year’s as­sessed value since

2008, when an­other con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that capped the in­creases passed.

Amend­ment 3, Voter Con­trol of Gam­bling in Florida, a cit­i­zen-ini­ti­ated amend­ment, would give vot­ers the exclusive right to de­cide to au­tho­rize ex­pan­sions of casino

gam­bling in Florida. That au­thor­ity cur­rently rests with both the Leg­is­la­ture and vot­ers, through con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment.

Card games, casino games and slot ma­chines are lim­ited to tribal fa­cil­i­ties in most of Florida, though some slot ma­chines are al­lowed at cer­tain pari-mutuel fa­cil­i­ties in Broward and Mi­amiDade coun­ties. Though the Leg­is­la­ture has tried in re­cent years to pass gam­bling bills that would ad­dress the state’s agree­ment with the Semi­nole Tribe and al­low for some ex­pan­sion of casi­nos, ne­go­ti­a­tions have re­peat­edly bro­ken down as the House, which is more op­posed to gam­bling, re­jected the Se­nate’s pro­pos­als.

Amend­ment 4, Vot­ing Restora­tion Amend

ment, an­other pe­ti­tion­drive amend­ment, would re­store vot­ing rights to for­mer felons if they have served their time, with the ex­cep­tion of those who have com­mit­ted crimes like mur­der or sex of­fenses. For the past seven years, the state has re­quired that felons wait at least five years af­ter their sen­tences are com­plete to ap­ply to re­gain vot­ing rights. The cur­rent process can take a decade or more un­der the Scott ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quire­ment that a state clemency board con­sider each re­quest dur­ing its four meet­ings a year.

In ad­di­tion to the chal­lenge posed by the amend­ment, the sys­tem is the sub­ject of an on­go­ing, pro­tracted le­gal bat­tle. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in March struck down the vote restora­tion sys­tem for felons as so ar­bi­trary as to be un­con­sti­tu­tional, but the state won a stay of his in­junc­tion as an ap­peal goes to the U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in At­lanta.

Ar­gu­ments in the le­gal case were heard in July, but the case is un­likely to be re­solved be­fore vot­ers cast their bal­lots in Novem­ber. If passed, about 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple in Florida could be af­fected.

Amend­ment 5, Su­per­ma­jor­ity Vote Re­quired to Im­pose, Au­tho­rize, or Raise State Taxes or

Fees, an­other pro­posal from law­mak­ers this year, would re­quire a two-thirds su­per-ma­jor­ity vote in the Leg­is­la­ture to im­pose, ap­prove or raise state taxes and fees. The higher thresh­old means it would take only a third of mem­bers in ei­ther the state House or Se­nate to block any fu­ture tax in­creases or re­peal ex­ist­ing ex­emp­tions. The idea, floated by Gov. Rick Scott last year, would also stop any pro­vi­sions to raise taxes or fees from be­ing tacked onto other state bills, and does not ap­ply to any fees or taxes that would be levied by lo­cal gov­ern­ments or agen­cies, such as school dis­tricts.

The last seven amend­ments on this year’s bal­lot come from the Con­sti­tu­tion Re­vi­sion Com­mis­sion. The com­mis­sion chose about 20 pro­pos­als for this year’s bal­lot but de­cided to “group” dis­tinct pro­pos­als to­gether into eight amend­ments, mean­ing that in some cases vot­ers must ap­prove or re­ject mul­ti­ple pro­pos­als in batches. One of the eight was re­moved from the bal­lot by the state Supreme Court’s rul­ing on Sept. 7.

The bundling, a tech­nique that has been used be­fore, is con­tro­ver­sial. Crit­ics have charged that the way ideas were linked was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, to “log-roll” less pop­u­lar ideas to more fa­vor­able ones to suc­ceed. But the chair of the com­mis­sion’s pow­er­ful Style and Draft­ing Com­mit­tee, Brecht Heuchan, a Scott ap­pointee, has con­tended that the group­ings will make it eas­ier for vot­ers to read and save time.

Amend­ment 6, Rights of Crime Vic­tims; Judg

es, the first of the CRC items, links three pro­pos­als that would cre­ate a bill of rights for crime vic­tims and set new re­quire­ments for judges. The bill of rights, mod­eled af­ter Marsy’s Law in Cal­i­for­nia, has the sup­port of ma­jor Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers but has drawn crit­i­cism that the way vic­tims’ rights are drawn might flood the jus­tice sys­tem with ad­di­tional re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

The lat­ter two pro­pos­als in­crease the manda­tory re­tire­ment age for judges to 75 from 70, ef­fec­tive July 1, 2019, and would bar judges from de­fer­ring to ad­min­is­tra­tive agen­cies’ in­ter­pre­ta­tions of a rule or statute when rul­ing in cases in­volv­ing those laws. (A Leon County judge ruled in fa­vor of two sets of plain­tiffs chal­leng­ing this amend­ment on the bal­lot in Au­gust, say­ing its ti­tle and sum­mary did not meet the re­quired stan­dard. Those two cases were merged and heard by the state Supreme Court, which ruled to re­tain this amend­ment on the bal­lot.)

Amend­ment 7, First Re­spon­der and Mil­i­tary Mem­ber Sur­vivor Ben­e­fits; Pub­lic Col­leges and

Uni­ver­si­ties, would pull to­gether three pro­pos­als, pro­vid­ing col­lege tu­ition for the sur­vivors of first re­spon­ders and mil­i­tary mem­bers killed on duty, re­quir­ing uni­ver­sity trus­tees to agree by a twothirds su­per-ma­jor­ity to raise col­lege fees (not in­clud­ing tu­ition) and es­tab­lish­ing the state col­lege sys­tem in the Florida Con­sti­tu­tion. Uni­ver­si­ties are in the state Con­sti­tu­tion, but state col­leges (also known as com­mu­nity col­leges) are not.

(A Leon County cir­cuit court judge ruled in early Septem­ber that this amend­ment and two oth­ers be struck from the bal­lot be­cause of its bun­dled sta­tus – that de­ci­sion is cur­rently be­ing ap­pealed by the state.) Amend­ment 8, School Board Term Lim­its and Du­ties; Pub­lic Schools, was struck from the bal­lot by the state Supreme

Court Sept. 7.

It would have rolled to­gether three ed­u­ca­tion-re­lated pro­pos­als: a new eight-year school board term lim­its as well as ex­panded civics ed­u­ca­tion in pub­lic schools, with a con­tro­ver­sial plan to en­able char­ter schools to by­pass lo­cal school boards by ex­pand­ing the state’s au­thor­ity to con­trol and su­per­vise them. Sup­port­ers of the amend­ment said the lan­guage would have en­sured char­ter schools are not un­fairly de­nied, though op­po­nents al­leged it would shrink lo­cal boards’ au­ton­omy and over­sight.

Af­ter the League of Women Vot­ers sued say­ing the amend­ment should be re­moved from the bal­lot be­cause its ti­tle and sum­mary don’t meet the re­quired stan­dard, the state Supreme Court ruled the amend­ment should be re­moved from the bal­lot. Amend­ment 9, Pro­hibits Off­shore Oil and Gas Drilling; Pro­hibits Va­p­ing in En­closed In­door Work­places, would tether a ban on oil and gas drilling in state-owned wa­ters with a pro­posal to add va­p­ing to the ban on smok­ing in­doors.

(A Leon County cir­cuit court judge ruled in early Septem­ber that this amend­ment and two oth­ers be struck from the bal­lot be­cause of its bun­dled sta­tus – that de­ci­sion is cur­rently be­ing ap­pealed by the state.)

Amend­ment 10, State and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Struc­ture and Oper

ation, would link four pro­pos­als: one to have the state’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion start in Jan­uary rather than March in even-num­bered years (the leg­is­la­ture cur­rently changes its dates by statute), two that would cre­ate a coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fice and make the state vet­er­ans af­fairs de­part­ment con­sti­tu­tion­ally re­quired, and a pro­posal that would re­quire five county-level of­fices to be elected.

All of the county po­si­tions – in­clud­ing tax col­lec­tors, prop­erty ap­prais­ers, su­per­vi­sors of elec­tions and clerks of cir­cuit court – are al­ready elected in many coun­ties. But the of­fice of sher­iff sin­gles out Mi­amiDade, which is the only county that does not elect a sher­iff and in­stead has an ap­pointed po­lice di­rec­tor.

(A case seek­ing to re­move this amend­ment – in­clud­ing af­fected coun­ties like Mi­ami-Dade, Broward and Vo­lu­sia – was taken up by the state Supreme Court, which ruled Sept. 7 that the amend­ment re­main on the bal­lot.)

Amend­ment 11, Prop­erty Rights; Re­moval of Ob­so­lete Pro­vi­sion;

Crim­i­nal Statutes, would re­vise the Con­sti­tu­tion to re­move some lan­guage, in­clud­ing a pro­vi­sion that stops “aliens in­el­i­gi­ble for cit­i­zen­ship” from own­ing prop­erty and word­ing ap­prov­ing a high-speed rail sys­tem. It would also re­move the state’s Sav­ings Clause, which pro­hibits retroac­tively ap­ply­ing the amend­ment of a crim­i­nal statute to sen­tenc­ing for a crime com­mit­ted be­fore the change, and clar­ify that re­peal­ing a crim­i­nal statute would not nec­es­sar­ily af­fect the prose­cu­tion of that crime com­mit­ted pre­vi­ously.

(A Leon County cir­cuit court judge ruled in early Septem­ber that this amend­ment and two oth­ers be struck from the bal­lot be­cause of its bun­dled sta­tus – that de­ci­sion is cur­rently be­ing ap­pealed by the state.)

Amend­ment 12, Lob­by­ing and Abuse of Of­fice by Pub­lic Offi

cers, a stand-alone pro­posal, would bar pub­lic of­fi­cials from lob­by­ing both dur­ing their terms and for six years fol­low­ing, and re­strict cur­rent pub­lic of­fi­cers from us­ing their of­fice for per­sonal gain.

Amend­ment 13, Ends

Dog Rac­ing, is also a sin­gle pro­posal. It would end com­mer­cial dog rac­ing in­volv­ing wa­ger­ing by 2020. There are about a dozen tracks in Florida, and the prac­tice has drawn crit­i­cism from an­i­mal rights ad­vo­cates who as­sert that the prac­tice is in­hu­mane. The Florida Grey­hound As­so­ci­a­tion has sued seek­ing to re­move the amend­ment from the bal­lot.

(A Leon County judge ruled Aug. 1 that this amend­ment should be re­moved from the bal­lot, say­ing that the mea­sure misleads vot­ers. The state ap­pealed the de­ci­sion to the state Supreme Court, which re­versed that rul­ing and ordered the amend­ment re­main on the bal­lot.)

For in­for­ma­tion, visit the state Divi­sion of Elec­tions web­site at https://dos.myflo rida.com/elec­tions/

TIFFANY TOMP­KINS ttomp­kins@braden­ton.com

The Mana­tee County Util­i­ties Ad­min­is­tra­tion Of­fices on the first day of early vot­ing on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

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