Prepare For, Beware of, Amendments | September-November 2018

Issue of the Quarter, September-November 2018
Prepare For, Beware of, Amendments by Al Usack

When you vote in the General Election this November, besides voting for candidates of your choice, you will be asked to vote for or against 13 amendments to the Florida constitution. Among the amendments the first 5 are pretty straightforward (2 of these were placed there through citizen petition drives and 3 were recommended by the state legislature). Amendments 6-13 are the result of bundling of some 20 recommendations by the Constitution Revision Commission that had its once every 20 years meeting this year. Many of these are very difficult to vote on because in the bundling process one or two recommendations in each amendment tend to be changes that would be popular while the other one or two may be unpopular or concerns of only a small portion of voters.

All of this is too complex for detailed evaluation in this short report, and, in fact will probably lead to long long lines at the voting booths as people try to figure out how to vote. Also, because a 60% plurality is required for passage, it will probably be very difficult to pass any of the amendments, some of which might make useful changes and cover long sought needs. Before you vote, I would suggest that you look up the pros and cons on the internet and/or look at the recommendations of the LWV (League of Women Voters). For those who do not use the internet or would like to limit their own research time, the following is a very brief summary of each proposed amendment and the position of the League on each. Also, at the Share a Dish on October 12, we will have presentations and discussion concerning the amendments. Amendment 1, Increased Homestead Property Exemption – This legislative referred amendment would raise the tax exemption amount for homes valued at $125,000 or more by $25,000. I see no good reason to provide reduction in taxes for homes that are worth the most. Also, it has been pointed out that the tax saving though only about $200 per household would have a negative impact on the tax income for local jurisdictions. The LWV says vote no on this amendment.

Amendment 2, Limitations on Property Tax Assessments – This legislative referred amendment would cement any property tax assessment increase to10% over the previous year’s assessment. The LWV also opposes this amendment. If anything, this should be a legislative action rather than an amendment related to a highly unlikely occurrence.

Amendment 3, Voter Control of Gambling in Florida – This citizen initiated amendment would give voters the exclusive right to decide to authorize expansions of casino gambling in Florida through a constitutional amendment. The LWV which has taken a stand against gambling favors this amendment and I personally agree with their position. If the amendment passes it will mean that casino-type gambling will be limited to tribal facilities per federal legal mandate as it is at present and the state legislature will not be able to approve non-tribal facilities.

Amendment 4 , Voting Restoration Amendment – I strongly support the LWV’s position to vote yes on this citizen initiated amendment which would automatically restore voting rights to most ex-felons in Florida. See my last Issue of the month for more detail about this amendment.

Amendment 5, Super-majority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees –This legislative referred amendment would require a two-thirds majority to raise taxes or fees. I agree with the LWV position to oppose this amendment which could stymie legislative action due to emergencies and its ability to pass a reasonable budget.

The rest of the amendments are the result of bundling some 20 recommendations of the Constitution Revision Commission.

Amendment 6 expands victims rights under the state Constitution: I agree with LWV’s opposition of this amendment which increases the retirement age of judges, expands victim rights and forces courts and judges to interpret laws and rules for themselves rather than rely on interpretations by government agencies.

Amendment 7, First Responder and Military Member Survival Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities: The LWV opposes this amendment because they oppose a supermajority vote to increase fees or taxes. They also indicate that the survivor of a military person who died in the line of service is already compensated through the federal government. This is a terrible combination that tries to give legislators control over student fees along with an additional death benefit to the main survivor of a person who has been killed while serving in the military. I agree with LWV.

Amendment 8, School Board Term Limits and Duties, Public Schools: Again, this is an effort to combine some terrible objectives (that is, public support of private schools) with at least one that sounds pretty good (requirement for civics education in schools), with a third thing most people probably couldn’t care less about (term limits and duties of school board members). I feel that LWV is right to oppose this amendment.

Amendment 9, Prohibits Offshore Oil andGas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces: LWV supports this amendment because they feel that defeat of the amendment sends a signal to federal authorities indicating voters do not care about off-shore drilling. This is certainly a strange combination but I personally am leaning toward voting for the amendment.

Amendment 10. State and Local Government Structure and Operation: This amendment combines four proposals – setting a starting date of January for the start of the State legislator’s session (currently the date changes by statute), the creation of a state counter-terrorism office, a requirement for a state veterans affairs department, and a proposal to make the election of five county-level offices a requirement. All of these offices are now being elected in all counties except in Dade (Miami) where the sheriff presently is appointed. I agree with LWVs opposition to this amendment. All of these matters are already taken care of (except the Miami sheriff that certainly is a local and not a state-wide issue) and the entire amendment appears to be an attempt to limit the power of local governments.

Amendment 11, Property Rights: Removal of Obsolete Provision: Criminal Statutes: LWV is neutral on this amendment – they feel that obsolete language should be removed from the constitution but say there is much more that is not included in this amendment. I see no reason to vote on an amendment that I feel could be taken care of by hiring a few experts to update the obsolete language and present it for State congressional approval.

Amendment 12, Lobbying and Abuse by Public Officers: This amendment expands ethics rules for elected officials, notably by expanding the time they can lobby the state government after they have left their position from two to six years. LWV takes no position on this amendment though they think that six years may be too onerous and that the amendment does not address the real issue regarding lobbying, which is the impact of money in political campaigns. I certainly agree with the last – The real problem is that the whole nation (including Florida) needs to find ways to reduce the impact of big money in politics. I have addressed this in previous Issue studies and especially in the one on Move to Amend.

Amendment 13, Ends Dog Racing: This amendment would end commercial dog racing involving wagering by 2020. LWV supports this amendment. It is still under litigation because of a suit by the Florida Greyhound Association and a judge’s ruling supporting the suit. I feel this is pretty straightforward and leave it up to you, the voter, and how you feel about animal rights and gambling.

Just a short note in conclusion: Many people have said “vote for 4 and no more” and this may be the way you want to handle the many complex issues that are covered in the 13 amendments [/expand]

Issue of the Quarter July to September 2018  YES V0TE FOR AMENDMENT FOUR

Amendment 4 called Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative” is a citizen’s-initiated amendment that will appear on the ballot at the November 6 election. Passage of the amendment will automatically restore the voting rights of Floridians with Felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole and probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor or Cabinet approve the restoration of their voting rights on a case by case basis. More than 1.2 million people in Florida (some 10% of Florida’s potential voters and including many veterans) are presently permanently excluded from voting because of a prior felony conviction. Florida is one of only four states that still has such a system. In the past, the only way that people who had already repaid their debt to society caused by a felony conviction was through a complicated political process which depended on the generosity of the Governor’s office. Under the four years of the Christ administration about 155,000 regained their right to vote but in the 7 years of the Scot administration when a 5-year waiting period was initiated along with the initiation of other obstacles, only 2,807 had their vote restored.

click here for more What are the main arguments in favor the amendment? 1. A disproportionate number of the ineligible voters are black or Hispanic and this is but another way to exclude minorities from their voting rights. 2. In addition to voting rights, felons are often excluded from receiving help from government programs and private organizations, thus making it even more difficult to adjust to life when they get out of prison and recidivism is likely to be greater under these conditions. 3. Most people believe that folks who have made a mistake deserve a second chance. The right to vote is an important step in becoming full members of their community. 4. My own feeling is that if you are a citizen, you should have the right to vote so obviously if you served your time for committing a felony your reentrance into the community should entitle you to have the right to vote. How did the amendment come about? Florida is one of only 4 states that do not automatically restore voting rights to felons who have been released from prison. Legal challenges including a judicial ruling earlier this year have fallen short and the present governor and legislature have been especially reluctant to provide voting rights to minorities, including ex-felons. Therefore, an organization called Floridians for a Fair Democracy was formed to collected signatures of state citizens to support a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights. Enough signatures were collected to include the amendment on the ballot this year. Floridians for a Fair Democracy is leading the campaign to support the initiative. Desmond Meade is chairman of the organization and ACLU is the largest financial supporter. Officials who support the amendment include U.S. Representative Charlie Crist and gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine and Christopher King. So far Florida Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post have provided media support. As of early July, no media sources have opposed the Amendment. Opponents of the amendment include gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran. More details on the amendment including financial support from supporters and opponents is available on line — just check out Florida Amendment 4. And a final reminder – in order to pass the amendment: people need to register and vote and efforts to help supporters register and remind them to vote will be appreciated.