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Subvert the will of the voter? It’s a Florida thing.

Who can blame supporters of Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights of most ex-felons, for thinking that lawmakers can't be trusted to implement the measure? Just look at how other recent ballot measures fared once passed by wide margins.
Supporters of voting rights for felons marched in Fort Lauderdale [STEVE BOUSQUET - Times]
Supporters of voting rights for felons marched in Fort Lauderdale [STEVE BOUSQUET - Times]
Published Dec. 26, 2018

A heavy dose of skepticism greeted Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis earlier this month when he claimed that the implementation of Amendment 4 should be delayed until lawmakers can pass a bill finalizing it that he can then sign.

For supporters of the ballot measure, which would restore voting rights of most felons who have served their sentences, any delay tactic was a ploy to dilute the measure, at best, or kill it outright, at worst.

Who can blame the skeptics for assuming the worst?

Check out these examples of ballot referendums with high hopes that passed by wide margins, only to run aground in their execution.

Class size

Kindergarten teacher Melissa Pizzo's 2012 class brimmed over the state cap, at 20 students. The Pasco school district continues to deal with class size concerns. [Times | 2012]
Kindergarten teacher Melissa Pizzo’s 2012 class brimmed over the state cap, at 20 students. The Pasco school district continues to deal with class size concerns. [Times | 2012]
The issue: On Nov. 5, 2002, Floridians voted to amend the state Constitution to require that every school allow only a certain number of students in each class.

Advocates had complained for years that Florida's class sizes were ballooning.

The measure specified maximums of 18 students in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 students in grades four through eight and 25 students in grades nine through 12. It required the state, not school districts, to shoulder the cost of building more classrooms and hiring more teachers. And it said the maximums were to be in place by 2010.

The vote: The amendment passed with 52 percent voting yes. That was before a change that later required 60 percent approval to change the Constitution.

The rollout: The amendment faced pushback from Day 1. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush and other Republican leaders feared the cost would "blot out the sun" and launched the first efforts to undercut it.

But in addition to being expensive, the amendment was hard to implement. Public schools never know how many kids are going to show up on the first day, and many students move around during the year. The new law forced districts to add teachers and move kids around after the school year started.

Rather than comply, many districts found it cheaper to pay penalties for violating the maximums.

As the years wore on, advocates of all stripes — including some who originally supported the amendment — questioned whether smaller class sizes were worth the trouble and expense, and whether they really helped kids learn.

Early efforts to derail the amendment included legislative resolutions to get it repealed or limited to the lower grades. They failed. After that came efforts to relax the strict class-by-class maximums, which failed in the Legislature and at the polls.

In 2011, the Legislature reduced the number of classes subject to the class size limits, and allowed districts to account for late-arriving students by letting classes temporarily exceed the maximum by only a handful of kids.

Two years later, lawmakers allowed class sizes to be calculated using a schoolwide average instead of looking at every classroom. Dozens of districts have taken advantage of that provision to avoid penalties, and many class sizes are larger as a result.

Over the last 16 years, the state says $43 billion has been spent on class size efforts.

Environmental land-buying
This photograph, which appears in the 2012 Florida Forever calendar, was taken by Mac Stone in the Green Swamp, which feeds water to the Hillsborough River.
This photograph, which appears in the 2012 Florida Forever calendar, was taken by Mac Stone in the Green Swamp, which feeds water to the Hillsborough River.

The issue: On Nov. 4, 2014, Floridians voted by an overwhelming margin for Amendment One, which amended the state Constitution to require $10 billion in tax money over the next 20 years for environmentally sensitive land and protecting wildlife and water resources.

Florida once led the nation in environmental land purchases. Despite the political popularity of preservation efforts, the Legislature sharply cut the money for land buying, preferring to spend it on other priorities.

Then in 2011, in his first year in office, Gov. Rick Scott cut it out completely. Scott's administration then spent three years dismantling the state Department of Environmental Protection division in charge of assessing and acquiring environmental land, according to former state employees.

Formally known as the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment, Amendment 1 aimed to return Florida to its days of prolific land preservation. It required no new taxes. Instead, it called for one-third of the documentary tax paid on real estate transactions to be spent on conservation spending programs.

Backers of Amendment One such as Audubon Florida, the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida collected 68,000 petition signatures to get it on the ballot. Leaders of the petition drive boasted that they had seen no organized opposition.

The vote: Amendment One passed with 75 percent of the people who went to the polls voting yes.

The rollout: The weakness in Amendment 1 was that its implementation relied on the very people it was intended to rebuke, state lawmakers. At the first legislative session after passage, lawmakers earmarked a mere $17.4 million for the acquisition of parks and wildlife habitat, a far cry from the $300 million that Amendment 1 backers had intended.

About half of the Amendment 1 money would be spent on projects and programs that were historically paid for out of other parts of the budget. One part of the spending plan was specifically aimed at helping an agricultural giant named Alico hang onto a state contract. Legislative leaders contended that those things met the somewhat vague requirements of Amendment 1's language.

Gov. Scott, who during his reelection campaign had called for spending $150 million a year on environmental programs, did not endorse Amendment 1, and did not fight for it in the Legislature. Instead, his environmental agency proposed selling off hundreds of parcels of surplus parks and preserves to finance more land-buying. The list of potential surplus properties created such an uproar that the Scott administration scuttled the idea without selling a single parcel.

Environmental groups sued, accusing legislators of thwarting the will of the people. Attorneys for the House and Senate argued that the amendment was vague enough to allow them to spend the money on things like the management of already-purchased conservation land, staffing of agencies or buying easements to save working farms and ranches.

In June, the judge hearing the case ruled against the Legislature and in favor of the environmental groups. Legislators have taken the case to the First District Court of Appeals. Meanwhile the attorney representing the environmental groups, David Guest of Earthjustice, said that when he read the language of the felon voting measure, Amendment 4, he began screaming.

"It's exactly the same" as Amendment 1, he explained.

Medical marijuana

Cathy Jordan inhales a marijuana joint in 2013 to slow the progression of ALS. Florida doesn't allow the smoking of medical marijuana. [CHERIE DIEZ | Tampa Bay Times]
Cathy Jordan inhales a marijuana joint in 2013 to slow the progression of ALS. Florida doesn’t allow the smoking of medical marijuana. [CHERIE DIEZ | Tampa Bay Times]
The issue: On Nov. 8, 2016, Florida voters approved Amendment 2, which legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Florida already had a medical marijuana law in place from 2014, but it limited use of cannabis to those who were terminally ill and had less than a year to live. And it only allowed products with low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.

This new measure allowed physicians to "recommend" medical marijuana as treatment in the form of edibles, electronic vaping, tincture sprays and oils, and in pill form. And it opened up cannabis use to patients who suffered from a longer list of ailments: cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDs, PSD, ALC, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain.

The vote: The amendment passed with 71 percent approval from voters.

The rollout: While Amendment 2 officially went into effect in January 2017, the delays that followed prompted critics to accuse the state of dragging its feet. Legislators approved implementation measures during the last day of a special session.

They opened the marijuana industry in the state to a select group of companies that were in charge of producing marijuana, manufacturing it, selling it in their own dispensaries and delivering it. Patients would have to wait 90 days before receiving marijuana products. They also had to submit a form, a doctor's note and pay $75 to receive a license from the state.

The state health department opened the "Office of Compassionate Use" to oversee it all, but officials were quickly overwhelmed after 100,000 patients signed up. Meanwhile, fewer than 2,000 doctors in the state got licenses to give cannabis recommendations.

Critics say the long waits and regulatory hurdles have delayed patients' access to treatment they need.

At the same time, municipalities began to pass their own ordinances, limiting where marijuana companies could open their dispensaries.

A Tallahassee judge recently ruled that the law passed to implement the amendment was unconstitutional because it both required marijuana operators to grow, process and distribute related products while also capping the number of marijuana licenses. About 20 lawsuits still swirl around the issue, including many petitions for licenses from parties that were denied one, and a challenge to the state's ban on smoking medical marijuana.


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