Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Issues from vaping to victims rights on state ballot in November
Florida voters will decide in November whether to approve constitutional amendments on the rights of crime victims; college tuition and administration; death benefits for police and first responders; term limits for school board members; and bans on oil drilling and vaping in public places.
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to suggest changes to the state’s constitution. This week, the commission is deciding which measures will be on the November ballot. All amendments need the support of 60 percent of voters to pass.
Several of the proposed constitutional amendments bundle more than one issue.
The commission Monday had a lengthy debate about whether the measures should be “unbundled” — which would effectively require each issue to be voted on separately.
Brecht Heuchan, chairman of the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, which bundled issues, said it was “absurd” to think voters would get confused. He and other commissioners defended the process, in part arguing that they were following precedents from when the commission put measures on the ballot in 1978 and 1998.
Among the measures approved Monday for the Nov. 6 ballot:
Oil drilling and vaping: Combined under a “clean air, clean water” moniker, the single amendment (Proposal 6004) would ban nearshore oil and gas drilling and prevent people from vaping or using electronic cigarettes in many public places.
The commission voted 33-3 to back the ballot measure.
Florida law currently prohibits the state from granting leases to drill for oil or natural gas in state coastal waters. But putting into the Constitution a ban on exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas in coastal waters would be more permanent.
The vaping measure would expand a 2002 voter-approved constitutional amendment that banned smoking tobacco in workplaces, including gathering spots such as restaurants. The proposal would expand that prohibition to apply to “vapor generating electronic devices.”
Tuition and death benefits: The measure would prevent state universities from raising fees unless at least 9 members of the 13-member boards of trustees approve.
It would establish “a system of governance” for the 28 state and community colleges in the Constitution. It would mandate that each college be governed by a local board of trustees and that the entire system be supervised by the state Board of Education, which is how the system works now under its current statutory authority.
It (Proposal 6002) would mandate death benefits be paid when law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters and other first responders are killed while performing their official duties.
Members of the Florida National Guard and activeduty members of the U.S. military stationed in Florida would also qualify for the death benefits if they are killed while performing their duties. The measure would also provide tuition for the families of first responders killed on the job.
It was approved for ballot in a 30-7 vote.
School board term limits: The education proposal would impose eightyear term limits on schoolboard members. That would make school boards similar to the Legislature the and state Cabinet, where members are generally limited to eight years.
The proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 6003) also would direct the Legislature to put in law efforts to promote civic literacy in schools.
The measure could lead to the state having control over public schools that would not be established by school boards.
Commissioner Roberto Martinez, a Coral Gables attorney and former member of the State Board of Education, said the proposal is designed to create a state process to oversee charter schools. That would come after years of clashes between some county school boards and charter-school operators about whether charter schools should be allowed to open. Charter schools are public schools that are typically run by private organizations.
Crime victims’ rights and judge retirement age: Focused on a victims’ rights initiative known as Marsy’s law, the proposal seeks to ensure the rights of victims to receive information and provide input during criminal cases. Also, for example, it would ensure victims have the right to talk with prosecutors about issues such as plea agreements, restitution and sentencing.
Among other things, the proposal (Proposal 6001) also would establish a right for the safety of victims and their family members to be considered when bail is set in criminal cases.
The measure would change a mandatory retirement age for state judges from 70 to 75.
The measure also includes a proposed change that would affect legal cases involving the interpretation of state laws or rules. The proposal would direct judges to not “defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation” of the laws or rules in the cases.