Voters to Weigh in on 13 Constitutional Amendments
The 2018 ballot will be quite lengthy with 13 constitutional amendments, as well as proposed city and county charter amendments, and a long list of candidates appearing on the ballot. The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which meets once every twenty years, convened this year and placed eight amendments on the ballot, three were placed on the ballot by the legislature (Amendments 1,2,5) and two by citizen initiative (Amendment 3,4). Despite strong opposition from several civil rights and civil liberties organization, the CRC combined dozens of unrelated proposals into eight bundled amendments.
To be approved, any constitutional amendment requires 60 percent of the vote. For each amendment we share with you the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVFL) recommendations. LWVFL is an non-partisan group dedicated to improving government systems and influencing public policies through advocacy and education.
Amendment 1, INCREASED HOMESTEAD PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION , would raise the portion of a home’s value that can be exempted from non-school property taxes. The proposed changes would apply to the assessed value of a homestead property between $100,000 and $125,000, raising the maximum exemption to $75,000. The shift could save homeowners a couple hundred dollars, but a legislative staff analysis estimated local governments — which rely on property taxes for revenue — would lose about $645 million in the first year if the exemption, is approved. This proposal would go into effect January 1, 2019. The LWVFL recommends a ‘NO’ vote on this amendment. The League has a position that “no tax sources or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the Constitution.”
Amendment 2, LIMITATIONS ON PROPERTY TAX ASSESSMENTS, would permanently retain an existing cap on non-homestead property assessments. Such property tax assessment increases have been limited to 10 percent of the previous year’s assessed value since 2008, when another constitutional amendment that capped the increases passed. The LWVFL opposes this amendment for the same reason they oppose Amendment 1.
Amendment 3, VOTER CONTROL OF GAMBLING IN FLORIDA, a citizen-initiated amendment, would give voters the exclusive right to decide to authorize expansion of casino gambling in Florida. That authority currently rests with both the Legislature and voters, through constitutional amendment. Card games, casino games and slot machines are limited to tribal facilities in most of Florida, though some slot machines are allowed at certain pari-mutuel facilities in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Though the Legislature has tried in recent years to pass gambling bills that would address the state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe and allow for some expansion of casinos, negotiations have repeatedly broken down as the House, which is more opposed to gambling, rejected the Senate's proposals. The LWVFL supports this amendment.
Amendment 4, VOTING RESTORATION AMENDMENT, another citizen initiative, would restore voting rights to former felons if they have served their time, with the exception of those who have committed crimes like murder or sex offenses. For the past seven years, the state has required that felons wait at least five years after their sentences are complete to apply to regain voting rights. The current process can take a decade or more under the Scott administration's requirement that a state clemency board consider each request during their four meetings a year.
If passed, about 1.5 million people in Florida would have their voting rights restored. The League was one of the sponsors of this initiative and strongly encourages a ‘YES’ vote on Amendment 4.
Amendment 5, SUPER-MAJORITY VOTE REQUIRED TO IMPOSE, AUTHORIZE, OR RAISE STATE TAXES OR FEES. If approved, this amendment would require a two-thirds vote by the legislature for all future tax increases at the state level, no matter how small. The LWVFL opposes this amendment, stating: “This amendment does not include a provision that would allow for tax increases in times of emergencies (hurricane, floods, recession, etc.) and is an abrogation of the Legislature’s fiduciary responsibility to pass a reasonable budget”. In their Florida Workers Agenda, a coalition of worker’s rights organizations had this to say, “This short-sighted proposal would effectively lock Florida into its current regressive system where 78% of state revenue comes from the sales and gross receipts tax – which falls heavily on working families. It would make it very difficult for lawmakers to add more progressive revenue sources, such as a modest tax on millionaires, to help pay for crucial investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure and the environment.” www.floridaworkersagenda.com
NOTE: The next eight amendments are all from the CRC:
Amendment 6, RIGHTS OF CRIME VICTIMS; JUDGES would create a bill of rights for crime victims and set new requirements for judges. Amendment 6 deletes from Florida’s constitution existing protections against any interference with the constitutional rights of the accused. For this reason, the ACLU of Florida oppose Amendment 6.
This amendment also increases the mandatory retirement age for judges to 75 from 70, effective July 1, 2019, and would bar judges from deferring to administrative agencies’ interpretations of a rule or statute when ruling in cases involving those laws. In opposing this amendment the League of Women Voters of Florida expressed the following concerns: “person” isn’t defined as a physical person so this proposal could have unintended consequences if corporations are entitled to these rights. There is also a concern that it takes away rights of the accused.
Amendment 7 FIRST RESPONDER AND MILITARY MEMBER SURVIVOR BENEFITS; PUBLIC COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, pulls together three proposals: providing college tuition for the survivors of first responders and military members killed on duty, requiring university trustees to agree by a two-thirds super-majority to raise college fees (not including tuition) and establishing the state college system in the Florida Constitution. Universities are in the state Constitution, but state colleges (also known as community colleges) are not. The LWVFL Opposes this amendment: We oppose a supermajority vote to increase fees or taxes. Family members of the military who die in the line of service are already compensated through the federal government.
Amendment 8, SCHOOL BOARD TERM LIMITS AND DUTIES; PUBLIC SCHOOLS, wraps three proposals together - a proposal for eight-year school board term limits is linked to expanded civics literacy in public schools, and to a controversial plan to enable charter schools to bypass local school boards by expanding the state’s authority to control and supervise them. In opposing this proposal the LWVFL states: “Term limits for school board members is a bad idea. This is punishment for the School Board Association participating in a lawsuit against the legislature. Civics is already required in the schools, so this is a carrot the CRC included to confuse voters. This amendment would also create an authorizing agency in Tallahassee to approve charter schools taking control away from local school boards.” In opposing this Amendment, the ACLU of Florida says it “...would open the floodgates to unregulated charter schools and infringe on the current constitutional guarantee to a high quality education, and lead to discriminatory educational and enrollment practices.”
Amendment 9 PROHIBITS OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS DRILLING; PROHIBITS VAPING IN ENCLOSED INDOOR WORKPLACES ties a ban on oil and gas drilling in state-owned waters with a proposal to add vaping to the ban on indoor smoking. In supporting the amendment the LWVFL says: “Our concern for the environment overrides our concern about putting vaping in the Constitution. We also believe that if this amendment passes, it sends a signal to the federal government that Florida cares about off-shore drilling.”
Amendment 10 STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE AND OPERATION, links four proposals: one to have the state’s legislative session start in January rather than March in even-numbered years (the legislature currently changes its dates by statute), two that would create a counter-terrorism office and make the state veterans affairs department constitutionally required, and a proposal that would require five county-level offices to be elected. In opposing this amendment the LWVFL states: “This limits the voters in local communities from deciding on the election of county officers. It adds an unnecessary provision as the Legislature already has the power to set dates during even numbered years. FDLE is already the lead agency in coordinating efforts to prevent terrorism, and the Constitution already has authorized the Legislature to create a Department of Veteran Affairs. This amendment is clearly an effort to restrict the powers of local government.”
Amendment 11 PROPERTY RIGHTS; REMOVAL OF OBSOLETE PROVISION; CRIMINAL STATUTES, would revise the Constitution to remove some obsolete language, including a provision that stops “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and wording approving a high-speed rail system. It would also clarify that repealing a criminal statute would not retroactively affect the prosecution of a crime committed previously. The LWVFL did not take a position on this amendment, stating “Although we think that removing obsolete language is a good thing, there is a lot of other obsolete language that is not being addressed.”
Amendment 12 LOBBYING AND ABUSE OF OFFICE BY PUBLIC OFFICERS, is a stand-alone proposal that 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. The LWVFL did not take a position on this issue, stating “Although there is need for lobbying reform, we felt that six years might be onerous, and this amendment does not address the real issue regarding lobbying, which is the impact of money in political campaigns.”
Amendment 13 ENDS DOG RACING would end commercial dog racing involving wagering by 2020. There are about a dozen tracks in Florida, and the practice has drawn criticism from animal rights advocates who assert that the practice is inhumane. The Florida Greyhound Association has sued seeking to remove the amendment from the ballot. The LWVFL supports this amendment having held a consistent position against gambling.
All of these constitutional amendments will appear on your ballot in November. Because of the length of the ballot, many organizations are encouraging individuals to register to vote by mail so that they will have the time to fully read and understand what they are voting on. Remember, you can always take a pre-marked ballot into the polls with you to vote. If you choose to vote at the polls – take your sample ballot with you already filled out to simplify the process.
Box on how to register to vote by mail:
Under Florida law, all voters are permitted to vote by mail. You can use the online request form at www.SarasotaVotes.com to register to vote by mail. Important: A request for a ballot to be mailed to an address other than the one on file with the elections office, must be in writing and signed by the voter.
E-mail [email protected] if you have any questions.