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

A. Using resources provided by the Florida Association of Counties, Florida Trend, The James Madison Institute, and the University of Florida Extension Service, I will try to summarize the amendments with the purpose only to provide information that might be helpful to encourage more informed votes. None of these proposed amendments are citizen initiatives. They were all placed on the ballot by our legislature. There is no Amendment 7 because it was rejected by the courts, tweaked by our lawmakers and then placed on the ballot as Amendment 8.


Amendment 1 on Health Insurance

This prohibits laws or rules compelling anyone to buy health insurance. It is essentially a referendum on the Affordable Care Act. If you favored the ACA, you might want to vote against Amendment 1. If you opposed the ACA, you might want to vote for Amendment 1. Supporters say a substantial vote of support will send a message that Florida voters oppose the ACA and, in the event the ACA were to be repealed or significantly modified, the amendment would prevent Floridaís own government from adopting a similar requirement at the state level as was done in Massachusetts. Opponents argue that since the ACA has been upheld in large part, it is unlikely to go away and cite that federal law trumps state law on these kinds of issues.


Amendment 2 on Veterans Tax Relief

This would permit partially or totally permanently disabled veterans who were not Florida residents when entering military service to be eligible for a combat-related disabled veteranís ad valorem tax reduction on their homesteaded property in Florida. Florida already provides a discounted ad valorem tax payment for combat-related disability, but it is limited to those veterans who were Florida residents when entering U.S. military service. The amount of the reduction is based on the percentage of the veteranís disability and is offered as recognition of the veteranís commitment, service, and sacrifice for our country and the state. There would be an impact at the local level of government (county, city, school board and special districts). Those in favor argue the revenue loss is a small price to pay for the sacrifices made by veterans. About 74,000 veterans may qualify for the benefit, according to the Florida Department of Veteransí Affairs. Those who oppose might argue the property tax system isnít fair and continually adding exemptions and reductions makes it even less fair.


Amendment 3 on State Budget Spending Limit

This caps growth in state spending at no more than the rate of inflation and population growth, instead of the current cap, which has been in place since 1994 and is based on growth in personal income. It would also require excess revenue to be deposited into a stabilization fund used to support public education, or if not required, to be returned to the taxpayers.

Proponents say tougher limits on state spending are needed. Some may believe the only way to reduce programs that go beyond the scope of appropriate is to reduce the funds available to spend, thereby forcing prioritization. Opponents report that Colorado voters approved a similar measure but went back to the polls three years later and voted to suspend the law after it resulted in cuts to vital public services. They further report that since then, more than 20 state legislatures have rejected similar proposals. Opponents also warn that limiting state spending may well cause certain expenses now funded in whole or in part by the state government to be dumped onto cities, counties, and school boards.


Amendment 4 on Property Tax Exemptions

While current law caps annual assessment increases on non-homesteaded property such as businesses and rental properties at 10 percent a year, this will reduce the assessment cap to 5 percent. It will give first-time homebuyers who havenít purchased a home in the past three years an additional homestead exemption up to $150,000 phased out over five years, and allows the Legislature to repeal Floridaís recapture rule which causes some taxable values on homesteaded property to rise even when market values have dropped. This amendment, if passed, will have impacts felt at the local level of government (county, city, school board and special districts) in decreased revenues.

The Florida Association of Counties is against this amendment and argues it does very little to lower the property taxes of existing homeowners but does a lot to help powerful special interest developers. FAC also states that it would mean big tax breaks for wealthy out-of-state snowbirds - paid for by higher taxes for year-round Florida residents. Proponents feel that anything to stimulate the real estate and housing industries is beneficial and necessary. Opponents point out that local governments will still have the ability to change the millage rate to offset the changes proposed in the amendment.


Amendment 5 on Judicial Reform

Currently, the Supreme Court is authorized to adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts and under those rules, the Governor appoints a justice of the Supreme Court from a list of nominees provided by a judicial nominating committee and those appointments by the governor are not subject to confirmation. This revision requires the Senate to confirm the appointment. This amendment also gives the Legislature power to repeal court rules by a simple majority vote, limits the re-adoption of repealed court rules, requires all files be made available to the House Speaker, and revises some language relating to the selection of chief judges of our circuits.

Proponents feel it basically allows more legislative oversight over judicial rules. Opponents feel it will undermine the independence of the judicial branch of government. Additionally, critics argue itís a bad idea to grant more authority over the judiciary to a legislative branch sorely deficient in continuity because its composition and leadership frequently change due to eight-year term limits.


Amendment 6 on Abortion Funding

While federal and state laws already prohibit public financing of abortions, this amendment would enshrine that ban in the state constitution. It also prohibits spending public funds on health benefits that include coverage of abortion, but would not apply to expenditures required by federal law, which include an abortion to save the life of the mother or pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. It also exempts abortions from the privacy clause of the stateís constitution which could clear the way for a parental consent law Proponents state this amendment will provide another layer of protection. Opponents feel it could be interpreted to affirm parental consent requirements and would infringe on oneís rights.


Amendment 8 on Permissible Uses of Public Funds/Religious Funding

This would delete a prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination and would allow faith-based entities to receive public funds for providing public services. Proponents mention the U. S. Supreme Courtís ruling that tax-funded school vouchers allowing children to attend church-operated schools are constitutional and say that unless this passes, lawsuits may follow. Opponents say this measure would open the door for government officials to provide some religious groups with tax money while denying aid to others. Moreover, they are concerned that strings will be attached to the public funds received that could intrude into matters such as the curriculum content for schools.


Amendment 9 on Tax Relief for Surviving Spouses

This would provide ad valorem homestead property tax relief to the surviving spouses of active duty members of the armed services or first responders who died in the line of duty. It could be a total exemption or a partial exemption. A first responder is defined as a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic.

Proponents say the amount of revenue that would be lost is very small and this is the least a grateful state could do to help these survivors and it serves to honor the deceased in service to the country, state, counties, and cities. Critics of all tax breaks say that when revenues are diminished, the government often compensates by raising the tax rates of those not in the group.


Amendment 10 on Small Business Tax Relief

This would grant Florida businesses, many of them small, an increase in the tax exemption on tangible personal property (machinery, office equipment, furniture, etc.) to $50,000. It is currently $25,000.

Proponents feel this will most likely result in collateral economic benefits and could help businesses by clearing away some of the financial impediments that have deterred them from expanding their payrolls or hiring people for jobs. It would spare businesses a cost as well as the major hassle involved in complex calculating of the value of ordinary business equipment. Opponents cite this will cost local governments due to the loss in revenues at a time when the state has been dumping more responsibilities on them. It could result in a loss of services or a shift of the tax burden to others.


Amendment 11 on Tax Relief for Low-Income Seniors

This would allow counties and cities, by ordinance, to grant a substantial property tax break to low-income seniors age 65 or older (currently defined as those earning less than $27,030 a year) who have resided for at least 25 years in and have title to homes whose just (market) value is less than $250,000.

Proponents say some low-income seniors are at risk of being taxed out of the homes where they have lived and raised a family, especially in areas where real estate prices boomed. Opponents cite the loss of revenues and possible shifting of the tax burden to those who havenít yet qualified for a tax break.


Amendment 12 on Student Representation

This changes the procedure provided for selecting the student representative on the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System. Instead of designating the head of the Florida Student Association (a group that not all state universities join), the representative would be chosen by a council comprising the student body presidents. This is sponsored by our Senator, Bill Montford and would make the representation more broadly inclusive.

Proponents say every state university has a student body president, democratically elected, whereas not every state university chooses to participate in the Florida Student Association (FSA). Opponents argue that just because one or more universities choose to withdraw from the FSA is not a good reason to tinker with the state 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, FL, or by email to: mmjohnson@franklinclerk.com. Visit the clerkís website at www.franklinclerk.com.