Q. Can you provide some information on the proposed constitutional amendments that will be appearing on the November ballot? 

A. Using resources provided by Florida TaxWatch, The James Madison Institute, the BallotPedia, Florida Association of Counties, Florida League of Cities, Inc., the League of Women Voters, the Tampa Bay Times, and the Constitution Revision Commission, I will try to summarize the amendments with the purpose only to provide some information that might be helpful to encourage more informed votes. Amendments 1, 2, and 5 were placed on the ballot by our legislature after 60 percent of both the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to do so. Amendments 3 and 4 are citizen initiatives. This is where a certain number of signatures are required of registered voters to get the amendment on a ballot. The other amendments were referred by the Constitution Revision Commission which meets every 20 years to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution. Florida is the only state with a commission empowered to refer constitutional amendments to the ballot. 

Amendment 1 to increase homestead exemption by $25,000 for homes valued at more than $100,000. : In brief, a yes vote exempts home values between $100,000 through $125,000 from property taxes – other than school taxes – which increases the maximum homestead exemption to $75,000. A no vote keeps the current homestead exemption structure and retains the $50,000 exemption rather than raising it to $75,000. This measure originated with the Legislature and their supporters say this amendment’s tax break would make homes more affordable. Opponents argue that with the amendment, most benefits go to only a handful of homeowners; that it is not a tax break but a tax shift because while someone might benefit, someone else has to pick up the tab; and that it is likely that a decrease in revenue will result in cuts to services or higher local rates. Local officials may need to raise millage rates and would need to exhibit greater fiscal responsibility if Amendment 1 passes. Opponents are the Florida Association of Counties; Florida Education Association; Florida League of Cities; Florida Policy Institute; League of Women Voters of Florida; Florida City and County Management Association; and Progress Florida. 

Amendment 2 to 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: A yes vote would make permanent the 10 percent limit on increases in tax value for non-homestead property, thus reducing tax bills. It would continue to deny local governments (excluding school districts) tax revenue they would otherwise collect from rising property values. A no vote would end the practice of limiting tax increases on non-homestead property, resulting in additional revenue to local governments of about $700 million, according to the State Revenue Estimating Conference. This measure originated with the Legislature. Those in favor argue that Florida has an inequitable property tax system that disproportionately burdens renters, businesses, second home-owners, snowbirds, and other non-homestead property owners. They say this Cap helped to stem the multi-billion dollar tax shift from homestead to non-homestead properties and cite that on average, non-homestead property is taxed at 91 percent of its just value, while homestead exemptions result in homestead property being taxed on 53 percent of its value.

Opponents argue that the funds from property taxes are vital to the local governments providing necessary services. Another argument is whether this language needs to be in the Constitution when tax issues can be addressed by the legislature. Supporters include the Florida Association of Realtors; Florida Chamber of Commerce; and Florida Tax Watch. Opponents include the Florida Education Association and the League of Women Voters of Florida. 

Amendment 3 would require voters to approve casino gambling in Florida: A yes vote supports giving citizens the exclusive right to decide whether to allow casino gambling, essentially stripping that authority from the Legislature. It would continue to allow the Legislature to approve other types of non-casino gambling, such as poker rooms, bingo, lotteries, and fantasy sports, and it would allow the Legislature to oversee, regulate, and tax any casino-type gambling that voters approve. It would not affect the State’s ability to negotiate casino agreements involving Native-American tribal lands. This measure would consider card games, casino games, and slot machines to be casino gambling. The measure would not consider pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, dog racing, or jai alai exhibitions to be casino gambling.

A no vote would support continuing to allow casino gambling either through new laws passed by the Legislature or through various types of constitutional amendments. This amendment is the result of a citizen initiative which required a certain number of voter signatures which were received. Supporters claim Floridians should have the final word on casino gambling in the state, and that by putting the power in the hands of voters, it is less likely that special interests would be able to influence policy decisions regarding gambling. Opponents say policy and lawmaking functions are delegated to our legislative branch of government, and holding a vote on the issue leads to unnecessary referendums. It is reported the Supreme Court legalized sports betting earlier this year and putting gambling decisions in the hands of voters will limit the potential gambling developments and create another hurdle in a litany of regulations. Supporters include Voters in Charge, Disney Worldwide Services; Florida Chamber of Commerce; Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; the League of Women Voters of Florida; and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Opposing this amendment is the Florida Education Association and Vote No on 3. 

Amendment 4 would allow those Floridians with felony convictions who have completed their entire sentence to earn the right to vote back except for those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses: A yes vote would grant felons, excluding those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes, the right to vote after completing all the terms of their sentence. A no vote would continue the current requirement that felons wait a minimum of five years before applying to have their voting rights restored and then appear before the Governor and Cabinet to appeal for those rights. With this process, the Governor and Cabinet have sole authority to determine whether a felon is allowed to vote again. This amendment is the result of a citizen initiative which required a certain number of voter signatures which were received. Supporters claim this amendment will re-enfranchise individuals who have paid their debt to society in full. An estimated 1.5 million Floridians would regain their right to vote. One study conducted concluded Florida’s annual economy could see a boost of $365 million, and an increase of 3,400 jobs if the amendment were to pass. Florida is one of 4 states (the 3 others are Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia) where convicted felons do not regain the right the vote until and unless a state officer or board restores that right.

Opponents claim a process to award felons their voting rights already exists, and they argue that the amendment is an all or nothing proposal that does not consider the nature of the crime committed as it only makes exceptions for murder and sexual offenses. Supporters include American Civil Liberties Union; Florida Rights Restoration Coalition; Floridians for a Fair Democracy; Florida Policy Institute; Florida Education Association; Florida National Organization for Women; League of Women Voters of Florida; and Progress Florida. Opposing is Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy.

Amendment 5 would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve any new or increased taxes or fees, rather than a simple majority: A yes vote would require a two-thirds vote by the State House and Senate to increase existing taxes and fees or to impose new ones. It would require that any new or increased taxes or fees be voted on in stand-alone bills. Local Governments would be excluded from the requirement.

A no vote would allow the Legislature to continue bundling tax and fee increases with bills that include other measures. This measure originated with the Legislature, and supporters feel the higher threshold requirement would ensure that future tax increases are bi-partisan in nature and would create a greater level of consistency for individuals and businesses in Florida. They say this would make it more challenging to raise taxes than to cut taxes, a wise and common-sense policy. Opponents say that while making it more difficult to raise taxes might initially seems like a prudent move, it could restrict the government’s ability to raise funds and they argue this is a shortsighted initiative which could hamper government’s function and leaded to unintended consequences such as budget balancing problems caused by revenue declines. Supporters include Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include the Florida Education Association; Florida Policy Institute; League of Women Voters of Florida; and Progress Florida. 

Amendment 6 would expand the scope of victim rights under the State Constitution (called Marsy’s Law); would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75; and would require courts and judges to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to a government agency’s interpretation. A yes vote would enshrine in the Constitution an array of victim rights. It would place new time limits on filing appeals and require that victims receive some type of written notification of their rights, and it would eliminate an existing constitutional provision that ensures victim rights don’t infringe on the rights of accused criminals. The second part of this amendment would raise the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices and judges from the current age 70 to age 75. The third part of this amendment requires that state courts independently interpret law rather than deferring to administrative agencies.

A no vote would retain the status quo on constitutional rights of crime victims; would allow judges to continue the pattern of relying on state agencies’ interpretation of state laws and rules when deciding cases; and would keep the mandatory retirement age for justices and judges at 70. This amendment is referred from the Constitution Revision Commission. Supporters claim Marsy’s Law is a nationwide push to strengthen victim’s rights and six states have passed the legislation since 2009. They claim the amendment would also ensure that authority over legal questions rests with appointed judges rather than administrative agencies, and they feel that the effort to raise the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 recognizes increases in life spans and accommodates for longer working careers. Opponents argue the Constitution already offers a subsection that details victim rights and the legislature guarantees a certain set of rights and safeguards for crime victims, so they feel the issues in this amendment could be handled through the legislative process. Apart from their concerns on Marsy’s Law, they claim this amendment upends a functioning and orderly system where judges outsource many decisions to administrative law judges because they have a better understanding of the issues.

Supporters include Marsy’s Law for Florida Committee, 37 Florida Sheriffs; 17 Clerks of Court; Florida Smart Justice; and several State Attorneys, including our 2nd Circuit State Attorney, Jack Campbell. Opponents include ACLU of Florida; Florida Education Association; Florida Public Defender Association; the League of Women Voters of Florida; and Save My Constitution. On August 27, 2018, Leon County Judge Karen Gievers ruled that this amendment must be removed from the ballot because the language does not meet the requirements of Florida Laws…in fully fairly and accurately telling voters the chief purpose of the proposed amendment. The case was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. On September 7, 2018, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling, ordering the amendment to appear on the ballot. 

Amendment 10, the State and Local Government Structure Amendment, would link four proposals from the Constitution Revision Commission: 1-have the state’s legislative session start in January rather than March in even-numbered years; 2-create a counter-terrorism office; 3-make the state veteran affairs department constitutionally required; and 4-would require five county-level offices to be elected which are the Clerks of Circuit Court, Tax Collectors, Property Appraisers, Supervisors of Elections, and Sheriffs. This would force all counties, even those with a charter, to hold elections for these constitutional officers.

A yes vote would accomplish the above while a no vote would allow the legislature to set its start date, would reject a constitutionally mandated Office of Security and Counterterrorism under FDLE, would reject a constitutionally mandated Department of Veterans’ Affairs while allowing the legislature to determine if Florida should have such a department, and would allow Florida’s charter counties to continue determining the duties of five county offices identified in the constitution and whether those offices should be elected posts or not. This amendment is referred from the Constitution Revision Commission. Supporters say the legislature customarily meets from January to March, so the amendment codifies the custom. They claim the amendment is needed to meet the needs of veterans in the State. They claim the amendment creates necessary uniformity among the posts and elections of the state’s 67 counties for tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, sheriffs, and clerks of court. Currently, Miami-Dade appoints a police director rather than holding an election for sheriff. Amendment 10 would foster consistency across the state and allow voters to elect these vital positions.

Opponents contend that by choosing to combine these 4 items, some straightforward directives are placed with the contentious issue of county governance. They say the amendment is misleading and strips charter counties of their right to determine their own constitutional offices. Franklin County is not a charter county. Supporters include Florida Sheriff’s Association, Florida Tax Collectors Association, and Florida C.O.R.E. (Constitutional Officer Resource Experts). Opponents are the Florida Association of Counties, Miami-Dade County, Volusia County, Broward County, and Save My Constitution.

Amendment 12 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: A yes vote would extend the ban on state lobbying by legislators and statewide elected officials from two to six years. It would prohibit them from lobbying federal and local government agencies while in office, would prohibit local elected officials from getting paid to lobby anyone while in office and from lobbying their own governing body for six years after leaving office. It would prohibit judges from lobbying any branch of state government for six years after leaving the bench, and it would prohibit any elected official or public employee from using his or her position to gain a disproportionate benefit, a term to be defined by the state Ethics Commission.

A no vote would keep in place the current constitutional restrictions on lobbying by sitting and former government officials and would not create any additional lobbying restrictions for public officers. This amendment is referred from the Constitution Revision Commission. Supporters claim elected officials should fulfill their role as public servants and not be allowed to then capitalize on their elected office. They say officials owe an obligation to their constituents to refrain from reaping a disproportional benefit because of their post. Opponents highlight some shortcomings in the ballot language. They claim there are a handful of current and recent lawmakers who also serve as attorneys tied to lobbying firms or lobbyists themselves and this amendment would restrict their ability to find gainful employment. They say the amendment would not necessarily solve the issue, but would simply force people to become more creative in lobbying efforts whereby they might just serve as consultants to lobbying firms. Opponents contend this is a measure that does not need to be in the Constitution as it could be accomplished legislatively. Lastly they claim this amendment does not address the real issue associated with public officials who lobby, which is money in political campaigns.

Supporters include Common Cause, Florida Policy Institute, and Integrity Florida. Opponents include Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Education Association, and Save My Constitution.

Amendment 13 bans wagering on any type of dog racing, notably greyhounds, as of December 31, 2020, while continuing to allow dog tracks to offer other types of gambling, including poker rooms: A yes vote establishes a constitutional prohibition on the racing of and gambling on greyhounds or other dogs. A no vote maintains the status quo regarding commercial dog racing in Florida. Supporters highlight the costs associated with regulating the greyhound racing industry and cite concerns regarding the ethical treatment of the animals. They claim the costs of regulation exceed the tax revenue generated by dog tracks.

Opponents argue the 12 greyhound tracks in Florida employ roughly 3,000 people whose livelihoods could be threatened with the passage, and they cite an economic consequence in that an approval would spell dire consequences for the industry. They also say this measure does not belong in the constitution and the industry could be further regulated by the legislature. This amendment is referred from the Constitution Revision Commission.

Supporters include Grey2K USA, League of Women Voters of Florida, Humane Society of the United States, Committee to Protect Greyhounds, Imagine Our Florida, Inc., and The Animal Legal Defense Fund. Opponents include Florida Greyhound Association, National Greyhound Association, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Education Association, and Save My Constitution. 

The following three potential measures were struck down by court rulings and removed from the ballot, but could potentially make it back on the ballot pending appeals: 

Amendment 7 requires death benefits for first responders and military members killed in the line of duty, a supermajority vote for universities to impose new or increase existing student fees, and enshrines in the Constitution guidelines for the state college system: A yes vote would 1- provide for mandatory death benefits to the surviving spouses of qualifying first responders and military personnel who die in the course of duty; 2- force universities’ boards of trustees and the State Board of Governors to get supermajority approval to increase student fees or impose new ones; and 3- cement the current governance structure of state colleges into the Constitution. This amendment was referred from the Constitution Revision Commission. Supporters feel this serves to increase financial transparency as hikes in college tuition prices are often cloaked by fees, and this effort would ensure a compelling reason to raise tuition. They claim this amendment would assist the families of first responders and military members in a time of need. Opponents, while not disputing the value, feel the language is too vague and does not define what specific death benefits would be conferred and desire more clarity. They feel this initiative places hurdles on university leaders and could lead to gaps in educational services in the future. Supporters include the Association of Florida Colleges. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Education Association, and Save My Constitution. 

Amendment 9 prohibits oil drilling beneath waters controlled by Florida, and it prohibits the use of e-cigarettes, also known as vaping, at indoor workplaces. A yes vote forbids offshore drilling for oil and natural gas in Florida waters and it bans the use of vapor-generating electronic devices in indoor workplaces. A no vote would do neither. A no vote, while keeping a ban on drilling out of the state constitution, would not alter existing state laws that ban drilling and would allow legislators to change current laws both on drilling and vaping. This amendment was referred from the Constitution Revision Commission. Supporters of the amendment cite protection of our natural resources and say the amendment solely restricts drilling, not the movement of oil and gas products produced outside the state’s waters. They point to positive economic impacts, and another aim of supporters is to protect tourism. Relative to vaping, supporters claim the current language of the Constitution places a ban on traditional forms of smoking, and this measure just adds vaping to the list and falls in line with the desire to curtail effects of second-hand smoke. Neither those in favor or opposed appear to agree to the pairing of these two issues in this one amendment. Opponents view vaping as a public health issue and oil drilling as an economic one and think these are issues best handled legislatively. Supporters include The League of Women Voters of Florida, American Cancer Society, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida Policy Institute, National Wildlife Federation, Progress Energy, Gulf Restoration, and ReThink Energy Florida. Opponents include Florida Petroleum Council, Associated Industries of Florida, Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Vets4Energy Florida, and Save My Constitution.

Amendment 11 repeals the state’s ability to prohibit non-citizens from buying, owning, and selling property; deletes 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; and deletes obsolete language having to do with high-speed rail in Florida. A yes vote will 1- repeal a nearly century old provision that prohibits foreign-born people who are not eligible for citizenship from owning, disposing, or inheriting real property, 2- remove obsolete language regarding high-speed transportation in Florida; and 3- clarifies language regarding the repeal of a criminal statute and its prosecution. A no vote will allow the legislature to pass laws restricting the rights of non-citizens; will mandate that criminal suspects be prosecuted under the law they’re accused of breaking even if the state changes that law, and would retain a section of the Constitution about high-speed transportation even though voters repealed that section in 2004. This amendment was referred by the Constitution Revision Commission. Supporters say the amendment organizes some outdated sections of the Constitution in need of cleaning up such as the obsolete language on high-speed rail. Additionally, a current restriction on property rights of certain individuals which has been struck down by the courts in a number of other states would be removed. They claim that clarifying the language on crimes committed would restore to the legislature power to extend sentencing reforms. Opponents argue there is a need for consistency in criminal sentencing and despite any shortcomings, once a verdict applies, it should not be subject to changes in law over time. Opponents also have an issue with the bundling of items in this amendment and feel they are unrelated. Supporters include Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Policy Institute. Opponents include Florida Education Association and Save My Constitution.

 

If you have any questions or comments about this column, please forward them to: Marcia Johnson, Clerk of the Court, 33 Market Street, Ste. 203, Apalachicola, Florida, or by email to: mmjohnson@franklinclerk.com. Visit the Clerk’s website at www.franklinclerk.com.