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A Florida voter's guide to the six constitutional amendments on the 2020 ballot

Bill Cotterell
Florida Times-Union

The politicians in Florida’s elections come and go, but the constitutional amendments are probably forever.

There was one statewide referendum on high-speed rail service between major cities that passed a few years back — only to be rescinded in the next election, when voters realized the multibillion-dollar cost of the bullet train. And sometimes federal judges will contradict the will of the voters, nullifying an amendment, or state legislators will pass implementing legislation that thwarts the purpose of the people.

But when voters set limits on class size in public schools, restricted indoor smoking, required waiting periods for gun purchases, mandated minimum dimensions for pig pens, capped legislative terms at eight years in the House or Senate — or did many other things by statewide referendum — a change in the state’s fundamental governing document is here to stay.

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This year, we’ve got a half-dozen on the ballot. Half of them would affect how Florida runs elections — one doing nothing, really, while the other two would require major tactical changes for candidates and issues in future elections. Another would raise the minimum wage and the other two, both property tax measures, face no known opposition.

They all require a 60 percent majority for adoption. Here’s a rundown of what they’d do:

AMENDMENT 1 — Citizenship for voting

The Constitution now says “every citizen” can register to vote, as provided by law. The change would say “only citizens” can vote.

Pro: Purely semantics. “Every citizen” leaves the Constitution silent on whether non-citizens can vote. “Only citizens” clears that up, if anyone is in doubt.

Anti: Opponents see it as unnecessary at best, and xenophobic at worst. Non-citizens already can’t vote and rejiggering a couple words in the Constitution might increase conservative turnout to benefit Republican candidates elsewhere on the ballot.

AMENDMENT 2 — Minimum wage hike

If approved, this one would phase in a $15 hourly minimum wage by 2026 — $1 a year, starting in September of next year. A Monmouth University poll showed 67 percent support for raising the minimum wage.

Pro: Famous Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who financed the petition campaign for medical marijuana a few years ago, contends that people can’t live on Florida’s current $8.56 hourly wage minimum. Organized labor and virtually all Democratic candidates support the raise.

Anti: Business organizations contend that, in the current COVID-stricken economy, employers can’t cut bigger pieces of a shrinking pie. Mandating more would close some small businesses, they say, and mean fewer jobs available for people barely getting by now.

AMENDMENT 3 — Blanket primaries

Registered Democrats vote in Democratic primaries and Republicans vote in GOP primaries in Florida. That means about 4 million independents and members of splinter parties have to wait until the November general elections (except for non-partisan races or local ballot issues.)

Amendment 3 would create a top-two elimination process in contests for governor, Cabinet offices and state legislative races. All candidates would go on the same ballot in the primary and, if none gets more than 50 percent, the top two finishers would have a runoff in November.

That might be two Democrats, two Republicans, or one of each.

Pro: Florida is one of only nine states with “closed” primaries, and no-party voters are a fast-growing segment of the electorate. Most offices are won or lost in the primaries, and proponents say it’s not fair that you should have to join a party in order to choose your legislator, governor or state Cabinet member.

Anti: Both the Democratic and Republican Parties oppose the change, not wanting non-members meddling in their selection of candidates. The Legislative Black Caucus came out against it, too, saying a primary free-for-all makes it harder for minority candidates to get nominated.

AMENDMENT 4 — “Are you sure?” referendum

A political committee called “Keep Our Constitution Clean” came up with this one, which would require all future constitutional amendments to be voted on twice.

Whether put on the ballot by public petition initiative or passed by the Legislature, amendments would still have to get 60 percent of the popular vote. If they do, they would be put before the voters a second time for a confirmation ballot in a subsequent election.

Pro: Supporters of the Mulligan vote say it would keep the Constitution from being cluttered with special-interest items, like that mandate of gestation-pen sizes for pregnant pigs. 

Anti: It would probably wipe out the petition method of amending the Constitution. It’s not cheap or easy to get nearly 800,000 validated voter signatures and finance a campaign to pass a proposal now. Having to run a second ratification campaign would probably mean only the wealthiest of special interests — or the state Legislature, at taxpayer expense — could run a successful campaign.

AMENDMENT 5 — Property Tax Portability

Increases from two years to three the time for accrued “Save Our Homes” property tax benefits that may be transferred from a prior home to a new one.

Pro: Florida TaxWatch, a non-partisan government study group, calculates a tax savings of $1,730 per $100,000 valuation on the average Florida home. Revenue loss to local governments would be relatively minor.

Anti: Any reduction in homestead taxes shifts the burden to non-homestead properties — or means a commensurate cut in revenue available for local government and school districts.

AMENDMENT 6 — Veteran survivor benefits

The property tax discount received by combat-disabled veterans age 65 would be transferred to surviving spouses. The discount would continue until the spouse remarries or sells the property.

Pro: Florida has more than 1.5 million veterans, the largest such population in the country, and about 800,000 of them are over 65. TaxWatch estimates a small revenue impact, more than offset by the benefit of keeping Florida an attractive retirement destination.

Anti: No visible opposition. The amendment passed the Legislature unanimously.

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