Florida Constitution amendments: What they do, pro and con
Taken from the Orlando Sentinel, October 4, 2018
Florida Constitution amendments: What they do, pro and con
Florida voters face a wide range of issues when it comes to amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot this year. Currently, there are 12, but three are being challenged in the courts. Amendment 8, which would have turned over control of charter schools to the state, was stricken from the ballot by the Supreme Court. It takes 60 percent of the vote to approve an amendment.
Here is how each breakdown:
What it says: It would provide another $25,000 homestead tax exemption for properties assessed at $100,000 or more. School taxes would be exempt. Typical property owners would see their tax bills drop by about $250 per year, officials estimate.
Pro: Supporters say the tax cut would put money in the pockets of residents and improve the economy. They also say property values are expected to rise in the coming years, so local governments should be able to make up shortfalls through increased revenues brought in by the growing tax base and from new construction.
Con: Local governments warn that Amendment 1 could hurt crucial services such as police and fire protection. Statewide, the exemption would cost counties and cities about $750 million, according to the Florida Association of Counties. Political leaders could make up the difference by raising the tax rate, but many are reluctant to do that.
What it says: It would permanently adopt an already-existing cap that limits property tax assessment increases to 10 percent annually for “non-homestead” property such as commercial or rental properties. This would prevent repeal of the cap scheduled to expire in 2019.
Pro: Florida TaxWatch argues that adopting this amendment is crucial to prevent a huge tax increase. “Loss of the non-homestead cap could have some serious impacts on Florida, decreasing disposable income, increasing rents and business costs, and exacerbating and perpetuating the existing inequities of Florida’s property tax system,’’ a TaxWatch report says.
Con: Local governments could benefit from more tax revenues if the 10 percent limit goes away. However, the Florida Association of Counties voted to remain neutral on the amendment.
What it says: It would give Florida residents the “exclusive right” to decide whether to authorize casino gambling through the citizens initiative process that puts amendments on the ballot. That means the Legislature couldn’t pass laws to expand gambling or put an amendment on the ballot to do so.
Pro: Groups who oppose expanded gambling have lined up behind this amendment, including Orlando-based No Casinos, the League of Women Voters, Walt Disney Co. and the Seminole Tribe, which already operates casinos in the state. As of late September, Disney had spent nearly $20 million to pass the amendment while the Seminoles contributed nearly $17 million.
Con: Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3 is opposed. It has received financial backing from Jacksonville Greyhound Racing Inc. and the Fontainebleau Florida Hotel in Miami Beach, according to campaign-finance reports.
What it says: It would restore the voting rights people convicted of felonies, except for murderers or felony sex offenders, after they finish their sentences.
Pro: Supporters argue Florida is one of just four states that doesn’t automatically restore the civil rights of non-violent, ex-felons. The system imposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet in 2011 requires felons to wait five to seven years before seeking restoration of voting rights, which advocates say is unfair. They point out that about 1.6 million Florida felons are ineligible to vote.
Con: Scott and others argue the state must carefully consider the cases of felons before restoring their rights. A non-profit organization called Floridians For A Sensible Voting Rights Policy opposes it, arguing that “the value of every legal vote is diluted and diminished by every illegal vote cast by felons, non-citizens, dead people, imposters, identity thieves, and people voting more than once.’’
What it says: It would require a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the Legislature to impose new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones. Currently, most taxes and fees can be raised through a simple majority. It also requires that any tax or fee increase be a stand-alone bill.
Pro: The amendment was placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott. They argue it should be more difficult to raise taxes than it is to cut them. It also has the support of Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Con: Detractors complain the amendment contains no exception for times of disaster or other emergencies and allows the Legislature to dodge its duty to manage tax revenues. Opponents include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Progress Florida and the Florida Education Association.
What it says: The so-called Marsy’s Law amendment would greatly expand victims’ rights in criminal proceedings by providing protection from the accused, notification if bail is granted and shielding victims’ personal information. Victims also would get notification and access to all proceedings; input into pre-sentencing investigations; and access to sentencing reports. The amendment also would raise the mandatory retirement age of judges from 70 to 75.
Pro: Marsy’s Law for Florida argues that the amendment would permanently secure rights for victims. The group is spending millions of dollars on a TV campaign to argue for the amendment’s passage.
Con: Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters. They argue that many of the provisions in the measure already are enshrined in the constitution, and the amendment could burden the already-harried court system with additional responsibilities.
What it says: To raise any fee — tuition not included — a university board of trustees would need nine votes out of its 13 members. For a fee to be raised systemwide, the State University System’s Board of Governors would need 12 out of 17 members to approve. Additionally, surviving spouses of military members and first responders killed in the line of duty would receive a payment of death benefits from the state and would have some educational costs at public institutions waived. This is one of the amendments being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Pros: The costs of college could be kept down by requiring a higher threshold to increase fees. The amount of taxpayer dollars it would cost to pay out death benefits and educational expenses is negligible.
Cons: Like Amendment 5, which makes it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes, setting the bar higher to increase fees would allow a small group of trustees to prevent any fee raises, potentially handicapping a university’s ability to pay for services.
What it says: Offshore drilling would be banned in Florida territorial waters, about nine miles west of the coast and three miles east or to the Gulf Stream, whichever is farthest. The amendment would add vaping to the state’s ban on smoking in indoor workplaces. This is one of the amendments being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Pro: For environmentalists, a constitutionally mandated ban on offshore drilling would be a big win. As for vaping, there’s still a great deal of disagreement about just how bad secondhand e-cigarette vapor is compared with traditional cigarette smoke. But most of the studies out so far show that, while not as harmful as smoke, it’s also not 100 percent safe.
Con: There’s the potential loss of state revenue that would come with selling offshore drilling rights. Vapers would have to go outside.
What it says: It would permanently move legislative sessions in even-numbered years to January. It also would set constitutional requirements of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement counterterrorism office and the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs. Finally, it requires all counties to have an elected a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, and clerk of court.
Pro: For some, having elected positions rather than these constitutional officers being appointed by an elected body means more accountability.
Con: County governments, including some in Central Florida, are opposed to state-mandated restrictions on their charters.
What it says: This would delete obsolete wording regarding a high-speed rail amendment that has since been repealed and wording that bans property ownership for “aliens ineligible for citizenship.” It would also remove a constitutional provision that holds that changes to criminal statutes do not affect prosecutions for crimes committed before the changes were made. This is one of the amendments being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Pro: The already overly long Florida Constitution would be just a little more precise with the removal of the language.
Con: A group of former Republican officials, including former Lt. Govs. Jeff Kottkamp and Jennifer Carroll, formed a group called Save Our Constitution, which opposes all measures on the ballot because the Constitution Revision Commission bundled provisions in different subject matters.
What it says: Elected officials would be banned from lobbying the bodies they were elected to for six years after leaving office. Former justices and judges would also be banned for six years from lobbying the legislative or executive branches of state government. In addition, the amendment would ban any elected official from using their office to receive a “disproportionate benefit” for themselves, their families or their businesses.
Pro: With the Legislature’s eight-year term limit, lawmakers-turned-lobbyists would be unable to lobby most former colleagues.
Con: It remains to be seen how much teeth this would have, given that the amendment leaves it up to the Legislature to determine what penalties lawmakers would face.
What it says: Greyhound racing would be banned by 2021, and track owners would be allowed to keep their gambling permits even if they halt racing by 2019. In other words, Florida’s 11 dog tracks would still be able to operate as card rooms and, in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, larger-scale casinos that offer slot machines.
Pro: For animal rights advocates, the end of dog racing in Florida would be a huge coup. Florida has more dog tracks than the rest of the country combined. Cons: Greyhound trainers, breeders and others involved in the business say the end of live dog racing in Florida means significant job losses.
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