Of the 12 amendments to the Florida Constitution on Tuesday’s ballot, only Amendment 4 deserves your vote. It would automatically restore voting rights for most felons who have completed all of the requirements of their sentences, including serving prison time and paying restitution. Passing this constitutional amendment, which does not apply to anyone convicted of murder or felony sex crimes, would be the fourth-largest expansion of voting rights in American history and would mean that Florida is no longer an embarrassing national outlier of disenfranchisement.
The other 11 constitutional amendments do not deserve to pass. Generally, the amendments placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature were politically motivated, and too many amendments placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission combined multiple, complicated subjects. That may have been legal, but it certainly wasn’t in the public interest. There has been so much misleading politicking over some of these amendments that it’s worth reviewing the drawbacks of a few of them in more detail.
The Legislature placed three tax-related amendments on the ballot — 1, 2 and 5 — and in each case abrogated its responsibilities on tax policy. Amendment 1 would give some homeowners another $25,000 homestead exemption and unfairly shift more of the tax burden on to businesses and renters. Hillsborough projects that its tax revenues would fall by $32 million; Pinellas estimates a $21.7 million reduction. Amendment 2 would make permanent a 10 percent cap on the annual increase in taxable value of non-homestead properties, further hamstringing local government. Amendment 5 reaches into the future to make it nearly impossible for future legislatures to raise or impose taxes even in times of crisis by requiring a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority. The Republicans now in charge should not permanently handcuff their successors.
On amendments 1, 2 and 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 3. The Times editorial board has opposed the spread of gambling in Florida for decades, but this amendment is unfair. It would allow voters — and only voters — to place a constitutional amendment on casino gambling on the ballot. That cuts out both the Legislature and the Constitution Revision Commission. Those who favor Amendment 3 are an odd coalition that includes the Florida League of Women Voters, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney (which opposes gambling) and the Seminole Tribe of Florida (which prefers no competition for its casinos). Those campaigning against the amendment claim that Amendment 3 is “anti-schools” and would cut education funding. It would not. The opponents rely on tortured reasoning and sketchy math to come up with their frightening numbers. The amendment should stand or fall on its fairness and merits, not wild assertions. On Amendment 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.
Amendment 6. This measure would extend judges’ retirement ages, curb state agencies’ ability to interpret law, and add rights for crime victims — big issues that should not be jumbled into one proposal. This amendment would apply another state’s so-called Marsy’s Law to Florida. Kelsey Grammer’s heart-tugging ad in favor of Amendment 6 doesn’t address the reality in Florida and talks broadly about what happened in other states, which isn’t relevant. There is no need to amend the state Constitution to copy a California law, and victims already have rights in Florida. By allowing not just the accused to demand a speedy trial but also prosecutors and victims, the amendment would clog the courts with constitutional challenges, and it also could endanger fair trials and worthy appeals. For example, it would set limits of five years to complete state appeals in most capital cases. Keep in mind that 27 people have been freed from Florida’s death row after they were exonerated. The limits imposed by Marsy’s Law could have curbed those appeals and kept innocent people on death row. On Amendment 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting No.