The Florida constitutional amendments on the 2020 ballot, explained

Voters could raise the state’s minimum wage, change how primary elections are run and more.
The Fight for $15 campaign hosted a rally outside of St. Petersburg City Hall in 2016 and called for a hike in minimum wage. In 2020, a constitutional amendment to do just that will be on the ballot. [Times file photo]
The Fight for $15 campaign hosted a rally outside of St. Petersburg City Hall in 2016 and called for a hike in minimum wage. In 2020, a constitutional amendment to do just that will be on the ballot. [Times file photo] [ Times (2016) ]
Published Sept. 23, 2020|Updated Oct. 28, 2020

Florida voters have the power to dramatically change the laws of the state on Nov. 3. And not just by electing political candidates.

Half a dozen constitutional amendments could permanently shape Florida policy: Voters could raise the minimum wage, change how elections are held and even make it more difficult to pass future amendments.

The ballot isn’t as crammed with choices as it was in 2018, when voters had to decide on 12 different amendments. But there’s a lot packed into this year’s six constitutional amendments before Florida voters. Here’s a rundown of what a yes or no vote could mean for each one. Each would need 60 percent approval to pass.

Amendment 1: Citizenship Requirement to Vote in Florida Elections

The amendment would slightly alter the wording of the state constitution to say that “only a citizen” of the United States can vote.

It is already the law in Florida that only American citizens may vote. The amendment would simply change the wording that currently says that “every citizen” can vote.

John Loudon, the chairman of the amendment’s sponsor organization, Florida Citizen Voters, argues the change could prevent cities from allowing non-citizens to vote, as some in other states have.

Opponents of the initiative, such as the League of Women Voters, say the measure is unnecessary.

Amendment 2: Raising Florida’s Minimum Wage

Progressive activists and organizations have long called for a $15 minimum wage, pointing to metrics such as the expanding wealth gap between the hourly worker and the corporate CEO.

This ballot initiative would gradually raise the minimum wage in Florida to $15 per hour by 2026. Florida’s current minimum wage is $8.56 per hour, greater than the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

The amendment would help level the playing field for workers, says Florida for a Fair Wage, the initiative’s sponsor organization, which is chaired by Orlando attorney John Morgan.

Opponents of the measure, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, say the wage mandate would put too great a burden on businesses.

John Horne, owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, a restaurant with four locations in the Bradenton area, said his employees already make more than $15 per hour with tips. If a $15 hourly wage is mandated, he’d likely have to raise prices at his business, he said.

But Danielle Ferrari, owner of the Tampa clothing store Valhalla Resale, said she supports the initiative. She said a better-paid worker will spend more, lifting businesses across the state.

Amendment 3: All Voters Vote in Primary Elections for State Legislature, Governor and Cabinet

Currently, Florida’s primaries are closed, meaning only voters registered with a certain party can vote in their party’s primary to decide which candidate will move on to the general election.

This amendment would change that, making it so all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation, can vote in a primary for governor, state Legislature and Cabinet-level races. The two highest vote-getters, regardless of party, would advance to the general election. This system is often known as a “jungle primary.” It could potentially mean that two Democrats or two Republicans face each other in the general election.

Advocates such as All Voters Vote, Inc., which is sponsoring the measure and has spent over $7 million advocating for it, say the change would give Florida’s large share of unaffiliated voters — more than a quarter of the electorate — more of a voice. It would also stop the cycle of more and more extreme candidates emerging from primaries in hyper-partisan districts, the group says.

However, detractors such as the nonprofit People Over Profits say the change could hurt minority representation in Florida’s government by, for example, opening primaries in predominantly-Black Democratic districts to white Republican and independent voters.

Amendment 4: Voter Approval of Constitutional Amendments

Florida’s constitution changes a lot. Too much, some say.

This amendment would make it harder for voter ballot initiatives to change the foundation of Florida’s laws. Instead of a single referendum requiring the approval of 60 percent of voters, this amendment would double the requirement. Constitutional amendments would need to get 60 percent approval in two separate elections.

The amendment’s sponsor, Keep Our Constitution Clean, says voters need more of an opportunity “to fully understand the immediate and future impacts of any proposed changes to our state constitution.”

Opponents, such as the League of Women Voters, say this initiative could stymie direct democracy in the state. Amendments like the one from 2018 that allowed many convicted felons to vote in Florida elections would not have become law without a direct ballot initiative, said Patti Brigham, president of The League of Women Voters of Florida. Amending the constitution is already a major undertaking, she said. Getting an initiative on the ballot is often costly and requires hundreds of thousands of petition signatures.

Amendment 5: Limitation on Homestead Assessments

This measure would clean up what some say is a loophole in the so-called “Save Our Homes” tax benefit available to Floridians. Currently, Floridians who move from one homesteaded property to another have two years from Jan. 1 of the year of the sale of the first home to claim the tax benefit. This would give homeowners an additional year to do so.

Under Florida’s “Save Our Homes” law, homeowners who claim a homestead exemption are allowed to have their home’s taxable value increase by, at most, three percent per year. But the market value of a home may outpace that growth. The difference between a home’s assessed value and its taxable value is the “Save Our Homes” benefit.

When a homeowner sells a homesteaded property and buys another, they only have to pay taxes on the value of the home minus the value of any claimed exemptions, including the Save Our Homes benefit.

For example: A homeowner sells their home for $250,000, but is only paying taxes equal to a value of $175,000 because of the “Save our Homes” rule. Then that homeowner buys a new home for $400,000. That homeowner would get to avoid paying taxes on at least $75,000 of the new homestead property’s value. But only if they claim the benefit in time.

This measure got to the ballot via a joint resolution of the Legislature, where it passed largely without opposition during the 2020 session. The Florida House analysis says the measure will cost local governments about $10.2 million per year when fully enacted.

Amendment 6: Ad Valorem Tax Discount for Spouses of Certain Deceased Veterans Who Had Permanent, Combat-Related Disabilities

Currently, some Florida veterans get a discount on their property taxes if they were honorably discharged, are over 65 and have been permanently disabled by combat.

This amendment would allow spouses to continue to claim that property tax exemption after the veteran’s death if the spouse holds the title to the property and permanently lives there. It would also allow the spouse to transfer the exemption to a new property in some cases.

Like Amendment 5, Amendment 6 originated in the Legislature, where it passed without opposition. A Florida House bill analysis said it would cost local governments about $4 million annually if fully enacted.

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