Monday, September 24, 2018

What’s at stake in today’s Florida court hearings over Amendment 8?

Two cases challenging the status of Amendment 8 on Florida's November ballot head to court Wednesday afternoon. Each could result in the controversial three-pronged measure being removed from voter consideration.

As we've written about these two cases, some readers have expressed confusion over what's going on. Let's clarify.

Kenneth J. Detzner, etc. v. League of Women Voters of Florida, et al.  focuses solely on Amendment 8. The LWV contends the proposal, devised by the Constitution Revision Commission, intentionally misleads voters with its title — "School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools" — and summary language.

Most of the attention focuses on the section of the proposal that would create a path for the state to establish public schools outside the oversight of local school boards. The plaintiffs argued the provision does not clearly state who would establish and oversee such schools, and contended the CRC hid its plan to allow for a possibly unaccountable appointed state authorizer of charter schools.

Related coverage: Lawsuit challenges education amendment on Florida ballot 

Lawyers for the state argued the amendment language "couldn't be clearer," and further stated the plaintiffs misrepresent the proposal. They  asked Leon County Judge John Cooper to leave the amendment on the ballot.

Cooper sided with the League, saying the proposal failed to inform voters of its chief purpose.

Related coverage: Judge orders Amendment 8 be removed from Florida ballot 

As expected, the state appealed. With time of the essence, the sides requested and received a pass through the 1st District Court of Appeal directly to the Florida Supreme Court, where the case now resides.

The Supreme Court gave the lawyers a week to file briefs, and then scheduled 40 minutes to hear from them. That hearing is set for 2 p.m. today. It is scheduled to be streamed on The Florida Channel.

Harry Lee Anstead vs. Ken Detzner looks at Amendment 8 along with five others from the Constitution Revision Commission. It's not as far along in the process.

Filed by former state chief justice Anstead, this case alleges that the amendments illegally combine multiple concepts into single questions.

Amendment 8, for instance, packages three proposals — school board term limits, civics education and state authorization of public schools. Amendment 9 combines the issues of vaping and offshore oil drilling.

Related coverage: Former Florida chief justice challenges Amendment 8, five others as unconstitutionally bundled 

Anstead deemed the move logrolling, and argued it violated voters' right to vote for or against specific proposals. The state responded that the CRC is not required to have single-item initiatives, because the process allows for input and oversight along the way to the ballot.

Anstead filed his case with the Supreme Court, but the panel instead sent the case to the Leon County Circuit for an initial hearing.

Related coverage: Request denied: Florida Supreme Court won't hear challenge of six proposed amendments 

It landed before Judge Karen Gievers, who earlier had tossed Amendment 6 off the ballot as misleading. She is scheduled to hear Anstead vs. Detzner at 1 p.m.

The Florida Channel is scheduled to live stream that hearing, as well.

Related coverage: Leon County judge throws Amendment 6 off Florida ballot 

In the end, both cases can impact the fate of Amendment 8. It's even possible that the Supreme Court places it back on the ballot at the same time that Gievers takes it back off, under different circumstances.

UPDATED NOTE: Gievers said during her hearing that she would not take up Amendment 8 specifically in the case, because it is before the Supreme Court. ""It didn't make a lot of sense for us to spend a lot of time here on issues that are being heard across town," she said.

Elections officers across Florida are watching these cases closely, as they have limited time to complete their ballots for distribution to overseas voters. The deadline for the candidates for governor to name running mates is 5 p.m. Thursday, after which time the ballots quickly should be completed.

If the decisions on Amendment 8 are not sealed by that time, it appears the ballot will include the language. If it ultimately is ruled appropriate, no change would be needed.

If the courts toss the item after ballots are printed, the likely plan would be to not count the results.

We'll continue to follow these cases and bring you updates. Let us know if you have any other questions.

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