The list of proposed constitutional amendments is long and confusing. Some have multiple parts. So here’s some easy advice: After voting yes on Amendment 4, vote no on all the others.
All but two of the 12 amendments to the Florida Constitution on the November ballot were put there by the Legislature or by the politicized Constitution Revision Commission, and the disappointing result reflects the partisanship underpinning them and the lack of sound reasoning on why any of the proposals should be added to the Constitution.
For its part, the Legislature put three tax-related amendments on the ballot as Republicans seek to make it harder to raise revenue in the future no matter what the need. The CRC squandered an opportunity that occurs only once every 20 years to propose meaningful reforms to the Constitution. Its amendments are a muddle of unrelated issues. Why, for example, should one amendment both ban vaping in the workplace and offshore drilling? This is just one example of the mess of these 11 amendments, and why voters should reject them all. (The Florida Supreme Court already threw off Amendment 8 for not being clear that it would have allowed the state, rather local school boards, to authorize charter schools without ever using the phrase “charter schools.”)
Here’s a rundown, starting with the three that came from the Legislature.
Amendment 1. Passed by a largely party-line vote in the Republican-dominated Legislature, this measure would increase the current typical $50,000 homestead exemption — except for school taxes — by another $25,000 for homes valued above $125,000, prorated for any home assessed at $100,000 or more. This is effectively an unfair tax on business and renters, as they would certainly have to make up the shortfall for homeowners who would gain another tax break. And it’s another example of the Legislature leaving city and county governments in the lurch, forcing them to explain why tax rates might rise — just to maintain the same level of services — as the tax base falls. On Amendment 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 2. The taxable value of non-homestead properties currently cannot rise by more than 10 percent a year, a constitutional cap that is set to expire on Jan. 1. This measure would make that cap permanent. Although it’s an easy crowd-pleaser for the Legislature to put on the ballot, the measure would deny local governments the full effect of rising property values, once again, hamstringing them. It is estimated that amendments 1 and 2 together would cost local governments $1.3 billion a year. If voters think their local taxes are too high, they can turn their local leaders out of office. On Amendment 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 3. While it would be good to make it harder to expand gambling in Florida, this amendment is unfair. It would allow casino gambling in Florida only if voters — and only voters — proposed a constitutional amendment, which would then, of course, have to pass. That cuts out the other two means of placing amendments on the ballot, through the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission. On Amendment 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 5. This measure would make it harder for future legislatures to raise or impose taxes by requiring a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority. The likely effect would be to make it nearly impossible to raise taxes even in times of crisis. On Amendment 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
The next seven amendments were put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, and they all should be rejected.
Amendment 6. This measure includes three separate issues — raising the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75, banning courts from deferring to a state agency’s expertise on interpreting a law or rule, and a series of rights for crime victims. These are each big issues that should be considered on their own merits, not jumbled into one proposal. On Amendment 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 7. This is another amendment that jumbles together three issues. It would make it harder to raise university fees by requiring super majority votes by a university’s board of trustees and the Board of Governors. It would require that death benefits are paid out to first responders killed in the line of duty (it’s already in state law) and add paramedics and emergency medical technicians to the list, and for the state to waive “certain educational expenses” for the post-high school education of their children. It would establish the Florida College System (which evolved from the community college system) within the Constitution alongside K-12 and State University System. The fee issue is the major stumbling block here, as universities are already strapped for cash, and this would make it far harder — requiring much more than a majority — to raise them. On Amendment 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 9. This is the oddest combination of issues. It would prohibit vaping (the use of e-cigarettes) at indoor workplaces and ban oil drilling beneath waters controlled by Florida. Offshore drilling should be banned, but this strange juxtaposition of issues has no place in Florida’s Constitution. On Amendment 9, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 10. This amendment would subvert local control by forcing every county to elect rather than appoint its sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and clerk of courts — whether it wanted to or not. Those already are elected offices in most counties, but the choice should be theirs, not the state’s. Miami-Dade County, for example, appoints its sheriff. Other parts of the amendment are uncontroversial but also unnecessary. It would establish a counterterrorism office within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and add to the Constitution a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs. It would make permanent the Legislature’s recent practice of beginning sessions in even-numbered years in January, rather than March. All of those elements either already are or can be handled by state law and don’t need to be enshrined in the Constitution. On Amendment 10, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 11. This amendment, among other things, would allow lawmakers to make some changes to criminal laws retroactive. Some gun-rights groups see this as a way to ensure that the revised Stand Your Ground law, which requires prosecutors, not defendants, to meet the burden of proof in pretrial hearings, could be applied retroactively. Other elements of the amendment would repeal a nearly century-old provision in the Constitution barring immigrants who aren’t eligible for citizenship from owning property in Florida. It also would erase a constitutional amendment ordering the construction of a high-speed train that voters already voted to repeal. Those final two elements are house-keeping measures, but the proposed retroactivity of criminal law changes makes this a non-starter for the Constitution. On Amendment 11, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 12. This amendment would prevent the governor, Cabinet members, agency heads, state lawmakers and local elected officials from getting paid to lobby their former colleagues for six years after leaving office. Judges would also be banned from lobbying the Legislature or executive branch for six years. Although this amendment would move toward stopping the revolving door from elected office to paid lobbyist, it puts an unfair six-year burden on those who might otherwise consider public office and would be good candidates. It doesn’t belong in the Constitution. On Amendment 12, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 13. The proposal would outlaw betting on greyhound racing by the end of 2020, though it would allow tracks to continue some other pari-mutuel offerings. Whatever your view on dog racing, its disposition doesn’t belong in the Constitution. On Amendment 13, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.