From high-speed rail to pregnant pigs, Florida’s constitution is full of special interest carve outs which do not serve the proper role of government as a protector of liberty for all. To aid voters this election, we have provided a guide to the 12 remaining proposed changes to our constitution which will appear on ballots this November.
Amendment 1 – Vote Yes
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to increase the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000 for all levies other than school district levies. The amendment shall take effect January 1,
This amendment is fairly self-explanatory. The amendment would lower property taxes for every person who owns homestead property, that is, primary dwellings. There is a valid argument that while this may be a good idea, it probably does not belong in the Constitution. Installing this in the Constitution makes it difficult for legislators to change their minds later. The funds from property taxes do not actually contribute to the states overall budget. Per the Constitution, all revenue from property taxes fund local governments. There is a danger that depriving local governments of the additional revenue from these exemptions might encourage less frugal governments to put their hands out for money from the state a.k.a. the rest of us. That however is a reality regardless of whether or not this amendment passes. With real estate prices on the rise in Florida, we see this increase in the homestead exemption as merely something that’s keeping pace.
Amendment 2 – Leaning No
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to permanently retain provisions currently in effect, which limit property tax assessment increases on specified nonhomestead real property, except for school district taxes, to 10 percent each year. If approved, the amendment removes the scheduled repeal of such provisions in 2019 and shall take effect January 1, 2019.
Amendment Two is supported strongly by the Florida Realtors Association. Why? Because Amendment Two encourages more people and companies to purchase property in Florida. Amendment Two deals with non-homestead property. That is, property that people do not live in as their primary home. Unlike Amendment One which provides a credit for all home owners, amendment Two restricts counties in their ability to tax vacation homes, rental and other commercial property. Property taxes are our local governments’ primary source of revenue. It is unclear why Tallahassee is adding an inflexible amendment to the state constitution restricting local county revenue without an emergency exception clause (natural disasters, recession…). We feel that Amendment Two does not account for unforeseen problems that may arise in the future. Therefore, we do not believe it is appropriate to add this inflexible restriction on local governments to the Constitution.
We are not a solid “no” for this reason, A call to the property appraiser in Orange County Florida told me that commercial real estate is already taxed at the 10% limit level here. This is much higher than homestead property. Other counties may have lower rates to be more competitive. Removing this cap will likely increase those taxes. That additional revenue will be transferred to higher rental costs, higher product prices and fewer new jobs and companies.
Amendment 3 – Vote Yes
This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts.
A vote for Amendment Three is not a vote in favor or against casino gambling. A yes vote for Amendment Three stops the legislature from taking any further action in this realm. It draws lobbying money away from Tallahassee since they are no longer the decision makers. It puts decisions related to the expansion of casino gambling in the hands of the people.
Amendment 4 – Vote No
This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.
Currently, restoration of a convicted felons voting rights in Florida is done on a case-by-case basis after appropriate applications are made by the felon. This amendment would bypass that process and restore the voting rights of most felons automatically. The amendment does exclude those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, but it would restore rights for habitual offenders, identity thieves, voter fraud offenders and other violent criminals not convicted of murder. Individuals who have made such poor judgments in the past may not be the best candidates to vote for the prosperity of our state. For more information on why we decided to be a no vote on this amendment please review the following article: http://www.floridavotingrights.org/2017/08/felon-voting/.
Amendment 5 – Vote Yes
Prohibits the legislature from imposing, authorizing, or raising a state tax or fee except through legislation approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature in a bill containing no other subject. This proposal does not authorize a state tax or fee otherwise prohibited by the Constitution and does not apply to fees or taxes imposed or authorized to be imposed by a county, municipality, school board, or special district.
Amendment five requires a two thirds vote of the legislature to approve additional taxes or fees instead of a simple majority. This is a reasonable provision which does not prevent additional taxes from being levied, but it does provide some protection against government-gone-wild over taxation and overspending. Some opponents state that this amendment does not include a provision allowing for tax increases in times of emergencies such as hurricane or a recession. That is simply not true. The amendment does allow for tax increases as long as two thirds of the legislature vote for them.
Amendment 6 – Vote NO
Creates constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age.
If Amendment Six looks crowded with unrelated items, you read it correctly. Amendment Six isn’t a single change. It is a cluster of constitutional changes, something you will see frequently in this year’s ballots. Amendment Six was overwhelmingly approved by the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) 34-3. Some of the changes are innocuous. For example, allowing the courts to make their own decisions on legislation instead of having to ask permission of a government agency ensures the independence of the judiciary. Increasing the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 is insignificant and might be warranted given lifespans are longer on average.
The Marcy’s law provision providing a bill of rights to victims of crimes is troubling. The sale of such provision promises a more gentile justice for the victim of crime throughout judicial procedures. Some of the bipartisan salesmen on this provision include current sheriff and newly elected Orange County Mayor, Jerry Demings as well as current governor and candidate for the US Senate, Rick Scott. When the salesmen are selling a dream, look out for the nightmares to come. The foundation of our judicial system is based on due process. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court should have taught us that before we identify someone as a victim, we need to establish that the accused actually committed a crime. Amendment Six undermines the presumption of innocence in our judicial system and it diminishes the rights of the accused with conflicting rights of the accuser. For more information about Marcy’s law and its deleterious impact on our judicial system please review the following article: https://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/victims-rights-proposals-marsys-law-undermine-due-process.
Amendment 7* – Vote NO
Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.
Again the CRC has combined numerous constitutional changes into one amendment vote. The first change this amendment makes to the Constitution is that Florida will grant “mandatory payment of death benefits and a waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders to military members who die performing official duties.” First of all, the ballot language is vague. What are the “certain” educational expenses and the “certain” first responders? Voters who only read the ballot language truly don’t know for what they’re voting. Essentially, this first provision is already codified in law and doesn’t need to be cemented in the Constitution. This amendment modifies the current law by adding EMTs and paramedics to the definition of first responders. We don’t need a constitutional amendment to make this change.
On a totally unrelated topic, this amendment also mandates that a 2/3 majority be required by university trustees and a state university system board of governors to raise or impose legislatively authorized fees and it establishes the existing state college system as a constitutional entity. While states have a role in education, we don’t see a need to create a constitutional entity of a system that already exists. Even if you agree with making it more difficult to raise or impose fees, attaching that one item to guarantees of greater bureaucracy is not worth the cost.
Amendment 9* – Vote NO
Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.
Sure, oil drilling and E-cigarettes why wouldn’t those be on the ballot together in the same amendment? This is one of the reasons why amendment seven, nine and 11 are being contested in court. The resolution will not be made in time for these amendments to be removed from the ballot. On the chance that they remain, we must do our due diligence and flesh out the arguments.
Although many politicians, our current governor included, have voiced their opposition to offshore drilling, we view it as a reliable and necessary tool to diversify Florida’s economy. Florida is far too dependent on tourism tax dollars which are fickle at best. Citizens in states like Alaska, Texas, and the Dakotas have received real financial benefits from drilling onshore and offshore. The nation of Cuba has offshore platforms right off the coast of the Florida Keys. Do we really believe that they are going to be more environmentally friendly to Florida’s coast then we would? Even if Florida would allow offshore drilling we still would have to repeal a federal prohibition. Voting no on this amendment would not make offshore drilling permissible in the state of Florida, but it would prevent an additional barrier going up if things were to change on the federal level.
E-cigarettes, are they just as dangerous as regular cigarettes? Are they all created equal and equally as dangerous? Is secondhand smoke from an e-cigarette dangerous or as dangerous as a cigarette? Was my McDonalds burger and fries dinner more dangerous than an e-cigarette? Don’t we still have a right to do things that the government deems unhealthy? The answers to most of those questions are unknown. Treating e-cigarettes as if they were cigarettes and therefore banning their use in indoor workplaces seems to be just a violation of liberty. We agree that local municipalities should be able to create restrictive vapor ordinances if they wish. That is also part of this amendment, but when we add all of the parts together, we are still a no vote.
Amendment 10 – Vote NO
Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even- numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.
There are number of reasons to oppose Amendment 10. One of the main reasons is that it is almost entirely unnecessary. The Florida Department of Law enforcement already coordinates counterterrorism efforts. Florida’s existing Constitution already authorizes the legislature to create a Department of Veterans Affairs. The Constitution also gives the state the power to set election dates during even-numbered years. The provision relating to local county offices is an intrusion from the state on local governments. How a county chooses to elect or appoint a tax collector, property appraiser,or clerk of courts is entirely up to them. Administrative positions such as a property appraiser or clerk of court do not necessarily need to be elected by the people. These are not policy making positions. If a county chooses to hire or appoint people to these positions instead of requiring costly elections with low voter interest, that should be their prerogative.
Amendment 11* – Leaning Yes
Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.
Amendment 11 feels like Sophie’s choice. We marked it as leaning yes because there are some reasons why people would still be opposed to this amendment. Let’s start with the good news. The amendment says that it removes obsolete language repealed by voters. The ballot version of the amendment doesn’t identify what that language is. Once again, someone only reading the ballot language will not make an informed choice. The obsolete language it refers to are the high-speed rail provisions. Florida voters were convinced by special interest groups to create a constitutional amendment to build high-speed rail. Later those same Florida voters repealed that amendment. Removing the language entirely cleans up the Constitution somewhat. One small step for man. Another positive in this amendment is a provision that forgives people for crimes committed retroactively if the statute they were charged under is later repealed or reduced.
The most controversial and possibly the most deceptive part of this amendment is the first sentence which “removes discriminatory language related to real property rights.” Again, in order to understand the amendment you must understand to what the amendment refers to as “discriminatory language.” The Florida Constitution, Section 2 of article 1 under basic rights reads:
“All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry, and to acquire, possess and protect property
;except that the ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law. No person shall be deprived of any right because of race, religion, national origin, or physical disability.”
The crossed out section is what this amendment would delete. Currently the Constitution makes it legal to discriminate against the sale and possession of property by people ineligible for citizenship. This includes illegal immigrants, but not exclusively. The reason we left this amendment as leaning yes is because the provision is nearly impossible to enforce. Currently there is no method realtors have to ensure that a person in possession of, or purchasing, real estate is a citizen or eligible for citizenship. Removing this language does not make Florida a sanctuary state nor does it prohibit law enforcement from cooperating fully with immigration officials. Besides, there are reasons why foreign investors might want to own property in the state of Florida regardless of whether or not they have any ability or intention of becoming a citizen. Such a sale, benefiting both parties involved, should be legal.
Amendment 12 – Vote NO
Expands current restrictions on lobbying for compensation by former public officers; creates restrictions on lobbying for compensation by serving public officers and former justices and judges; provides exceptions; prohibits abuse of a public position by public officers and employees to obtain a personal benefit.
Amendment 12 is another choice where reasonable people will disagree. The way the amendment is written will almost guarantee its smooth passage. The word lobbying automatically causes tension in the necks of many citizens. Similarly, no reasonable person would support abuse of a public position for personal gains, but what do these provisions really mean? Lobbying can be broadly defined. After a politician works in Tallahassee say for 12 years, must they then entirely change their lifestyle? Can they not use the information and connections they’ve massaged over the years to continue making change? Provisions like this can be so restrictive that they can prevent qualified candidates from even entering the political arena because after leaving the workforce for 12 or more years you become a has-been in most nonpolitical professions. The word abuse in this amendment is also undefined. This amendment will likely be approved by the people, but the ones who will truly benefit will be the lawyers who will profit from the lawsuits generated from it.
Amendment 13 – Vote NO
Phases out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected.
As I write this I want to include pictures of my wonderful dogs and my other pets in my home. When animals are mistreated it makes our blood boil. That said, law is logical, not emotional. We need to look at law dispassionately. What does it say? What does it not say, and what consequences could arise from ambiguous language?
First of all, the ballot title “Ends Dog Racing” is inaccurate. The amendment neither ends dog racing nor does it end betting on dog racing. The amendment ends betting on live dog racing occurring in the state. A facility could for example have a live feed from a dog race in China and encourage betting on that race. They would have outsourced the cruelty to a less restrictive environment. Alternatively a Florida track can host a race which could be bet on outside the state.
The most concerning part of this amendment isn’t something that the amendment summary mentions that all. The full text of the amendment begins with the statement that:
“The humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida”
If we assume that the language of the amendment is interpreted exactly as our minds interpret it ourselves, than most people will agree with the amendment. But think. What is the definition of “humane” to a man in Pensacola, a woman in Gainsville, a college student in Orlando, an Islamic family in Tallahassee or a Cuban family in Miami? They surely are all opinionated on what humane treatment of animals means, but it is doubtful that a universal definition could be found among them. A vegetarian might say it’s inhumane to eat meat. A vegan may tell you that it’s inhumane to consume any products that come from animals including eggs and milk. Is it humane to eat a fish? Is it humane to kill a snake? Is it humane to keep an animal outside of your home? Is it humane to keep an animal inside your home? Can we still spray to kill wasps or mosquitoes? If we can come to an agreement with what the concept means today, what will it mean in 50 years or 150 years? We should not place things in our constitution which might be outdated a generation from now. By stating that the “humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value” the amendment goes much further beyond dog racing.
Don’t think that it can’t happen here. Texas Rangers were shunned from land their family had used for over 100 years to protect turtles. California farmers bemoan the water restrictions initiated to protect the Delta smelt. Provisions like this create super protections which treat humans inhumanely by prioritizing animal-rights over human ones.
If it wanted to, the Florida legislature could create a law to prohibit Greyhound races. It could create a law that prohibits betting on Greyhound races. The Constitution is for designing the operation of government and ensuring it protects human rights. This amendment does neither. It does however create a possibly conflicting rights category which Floridians may regret in the future.
For more information about this amendment and for clarity on why we rejected it, please review this video from the Florida family policy Council.
The East Side Tea Party provides this guide as a resource to assist in your own research. Through this tool we hope you will be more informed and less intimidated when making your ballot decisions. We encourage debate and will post relevant comments to this post in favor of or in opposition to our recommendations.
*These amendments are subject to litigation. They are on the ballot, but the Florida Supreme Court has yet to rule on their constitutionality.