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A blatant attempt to mislead the voters

Floridians will have a lot of voting to do this fall. Besides choosing our politicians, we'll also have to decide nine proposed amendments to our state Constitution.

Nine! That is a lot of constitution writing. We will hear about them all in time, but today let's focus on a couple that present some interesting questions on the front end.

Amendment 7 is titled, "Religious Freedom."

Amendment 9 is titled, "65 Percent of School Funding for Classroom Instruction; State's Duty for Children's Education."

Those are nice titles. I myself am in favor of religious freedom, classroom instruction and the state's duty for children's education.

However, the real effect and intent of these two amendments is to legalize private school vouchers — giving tax dollars to parents to send their kids to private schools, including religious schools.

Maybe you think expanding school vouchers is a fine idea. Lots of people do. Maybe you think it is a terrible idea.

But before we even get to that debate, the first point is …

Shouldn't the ballot actually SAY this is what we're voting on?

Yes, it should.

In Florida, a ballot title and summary are supposed to present the "chief purpose" of an amendment in "clear and unambiguous language."

And the Florida Supreme Court has the power to remove proposed amendments if they are misleading.

Amendments 7 and 9 were put on the ballot by an outfit called the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which meets every 20 years to come up with proposed changes to our system.

Amendment 7 would repeal the "Blaine amendment," an old part of the Constitution that prohibits the use of tax dollars in support of religious institutions.

Amendment 9 would reverse a court ruling saying that Florida has an "exclusive" duty to run public schools. That would seem to mean that the state could use vouchers to educate kids, too.

For my money, Amendment 7 is at least a little more clear than Amendment 9, which hides behind the feel-good slogan of spending "65 percent of school funding for classroom instruction" — which already happens in most places anyway.

If this were a citizen petition, instead of a tax reform commission amendment, it would almost certainly violate what's called the "single-subject" rule.

Citizen petitions usually are not allowed to stuff unrelated things into the same amendment. But that rule doesn't apply to amendments proposed by the Legislature or the tax reform commission.

(As an aside, there's also a claim that the tax and budget commission didn't have the power to propose this amendment in the first place. Its power is to reform the state's budget and spending, not to meddle in stuff like this. But I don't buy that argument. Seems to me that the way the state spends its money on education is pretty much right up the commission's alley.)

It seems likely that the Florida Supreme Court will have to rule on these questions. If I were a justice, I would rule that the commission has the power to propose these ideas, that Amendment 7 is clear enough, but that Amendment 9 is a blatant attempt to confuse and trick voters and should be thrown out.

Then I'd have to listen to lots of complaints about "activist judges," but hey, that's part of the job.

A blatant attempt to mislead the voters 05/31/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 5, 2008 3:10pm]
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