The 12 amendments on the Florida election ballot

Election day is approaching!

For Florida voters, there is considerable pressure to be knowledgeable of the 12 amendments on the Nov. 6 election ballot. But it can be challenging. Some amendments have vague language and others bundle several issues together.

Adding to the complication, this year is different from previous years. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which consists of 37-members and meets every 20 years, will add the amendments passed to the Florida Constitution.

For an amendment to pass and be added to the Florida constitution, it has to secure 60 percent of the votes. Here is what voters need to know about the 12 amendments that may affect their wallet and their fellow constituents.

Amendment 1: Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption

Amendment 1 would increase the amount of a home value that is exempt from property taxes. The exemption will be on the portion of assessed home values falling between $100,000 and $125,000. Between the $100,000 and $125,000 is a $25,000 amount of home value that other than school district taxes will be exempt from property taxes.

But the Florida Constitution already provides an exemption, for the first $25,000 of the homes assessed value and for the value between $50,000 to $75,000. A yes vote would raise the property tax exemption by $25,000 for homes worth more than $100,000, exempting the value between $100,000 and $125,000; a no vote and the amount will remain at $50,000.

The amount homeowners will save will decrease the amount of funding allocated to essential local services, such as the fire department. The Florida Association of Counties estimates the Homestead Exemption Increase Amendment will take away $750 million in the first year. However, proponents content, if home prices continue to rise, the amendment will pay for itself.

Amendment 2: Limitations on Property Tax Assessments

Amendment 2 would designate a cap of 10 percent on annual non-homestead parcel assessment increases, such as on rental and commercial properties. Otherwise, the cap will expire on Jan 1, 2019. School district taxes are not exempt from the amendment, which was passed in 2008.

Small business owners and renters would be the most affected recipients, should the measure not be passed. For instance, the tax assessment of a $3,500 a month rental apartment in Naples is currently not allowed to increase beyond $350 a year. The restriction is because of the 10 percent cap. The increase would happen even if the market value of the property decreases in value.

Amendment 3: Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

Amendment 3 designates Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling within the state. The amendment defines casino gambling: “Any type of games that are typically found in casinos and not horse racing, dog racing or jai alai exhibitions.”

Passage of the Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative will prevent Legislature from passing laws expanding gambling within the state. The voters will have total control. But Florida voters who reside in the northern part of the state, for instance, can grant casinos authority to start business in Fort Myers. It can be potentially problematic, according to opposition.

If Amendment 3 is passed, it would not negate the state-tribe compacts. That means casino gambling agreements on Native American tribal lands will not be impacted. However, opposition to the measure, such as Bill Galvano a Florida state senator representing District 21, said its passage will lead to a “monopoly for the Seminole Tribe.”

Amendment 4: Voting Restoration Amendment

Florida citizens who have felony convictions, following the completion of all terms designated in their sentence including probation or parole, would have their voting rights restored. However, the restoration of voting rights will not apply to convicted murderers or sexual offenders, as that power will still reside with the Governor and Cabinet.

Under current law, former felons can ask the Florida Clemency Board to restore their rights following five years after completion of their sentence. Florida is among the four states within the country that disenfranchise people with a felony conviction. If passed, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative will impact 1.5 million Floridians.

Amendment 5: Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees

State legislature can raise most taxes with a simple majority. However, Amendment 5 would require a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature to impose, authorize or raise state taxes or fees. The amendment designates future bill must contain no other subject. If passed, state taxes and fees otherwise prohibited by the constitution, will not be authorized.

“We should always make it much more difficult to raise taxes than it is to cut them,” Richard Corcoran said, Florida house speaker representing District 37. “This amendment will secure and protect that legacy from future legislatures bent on raising taxes.” Among opposition arguments, they claim the amendment does not contain a provision that allows for tax increases when emergencies strike.

Amendment 6: Rights of Crime Victims; Judges

Amendment 6 creates constitutional rights for victims of crime, such as the right to due process, to be reasonably protected from the accused. Also, it prevents the disclosure of information or records, which can be used to locate or harass the victim or his or her family. The victim would have the right to be heard in public proceedings and to be informed, in various circumstances, of the proceedings of the case.

The amendment is bundled with two other rules. The first would raise the mandatory retirement age of state judges and justices. Rather than the current limit of 70-years-old, the retirement age will increase to 75-years-old. Additionally, Amendment 6 will delete the authorization to complete the judicial term if one-half of the term has been served by retirement age for the government employee.

The second bundle in Amendment 6 would make changes to the state’s law regarding judicial deference. State courts can not place more importance to an administrative agency’s interpretation of a law than, for instance, the defendant’s opinion. Therefore, the judge is obligated to perform an individual analysis of how the law applies to the specific case when interpreting statute.

Amendment 7: First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities

Amendment 7 combines three different issues. It would designate a death benefit allocated by the employing agency to the family of first responders and military members. The death benefit, which includes some educational expenses post-high-school, applies when these government employees are accidentally killed or unlawfully and intentionally killed.

The second issue that pertains to the amendment is a requirement of a supermajority vote by both state university system board of governors — nine affirmative votes out of 13 members — and university trustees — 12 affirmative votes out of 17 members — to increase a college fee. The step would most likely defer monetary increases on students.

The state college system would be reclassified with the passage of Amendment 7. The amendment establishes the state college system in the Florida constitution, which provides an updated governance structure.

Amendment 9: Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces

Amendment 9 covers two drastically different issues. It would ban offshore oil and gas drilling. The amendment would prohibit drilling for the aim of exploration or extracting natural gas and oil beneath all Florida owned waters, including the Florida Everglades, which covers an area that is between the ocean shoreline and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries.

The second issue that the amendment focuses on is expanding the existing smoking ban within indoor workplaces to include vaping. The vapor generating electronic devices, such as the popular JUULpods, would be prohibited in enclosed indoor workplaces with some exceptions. The exceptions primarily apply to electronic device retailers that sell the products.

Amendment 10: State and Local Government Structure and Operation

Amendment 10 will combine four proposals. First, the Department of Veteran Affairs, with passage of the amendment, will be constitutionally required.

Second, the county charter would not be able to abolish certain local offices, such as a sheriff, a tax collector, a property appraiser, a supervisor of elections or a clerk of the circuit court; and the amendment would permanently require an election for these offices.

The third proposal applies to the annual start date for the legislative session. It would be required to start on the second Tuesday of January, rather than March, in even-numbered years. Lastly, an office of domestic security and counter-terrorism will be created within the department of law enforcement.

Amendment 11: Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes

Amendment 11 bundles three distinct issues. It would repeal a constitutional provision towards persons who are not citizens or nationals of the United States from owning property.

The second issue is a stipulation for high-speed ground transportation systems to no longer be required, effectively repealed. In 2000, 53 percent of Florida voters approved an amendment to provide the development of a high-speed monorail. It would transport citizens from one urban area to another. However, in 2004, the amendment was repealed with 64 percent of the vote. Amendment 11 would remove the text from the state constitution.

Thirdly, a provision would be repealed that forces the state to prosecute suspects of a crime under the law the person was originally charged, regardless if legislature has altered the law since then.

Amendment 12: Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers

For public officers, Amendment 12 expands current restrictions on lobbying with the intent of earning money for himself or herself. The restrictions apply while in office and six years following, which is a significant increase from the current provisions of two years.

Ethics rules will be expanded for government employees, including judges, and elected officials. The additions to ethics rules under Amendment 12 would place impediments to deter abuse of a public position for personal benefit.

Supporters and opposition argue along the provision of six years from the time in office to becoming a paid lobbyist as a private citizen.  Supporters of Amendment 12 assert, if the six-year time period is too long, maybe “public service” isn’t the person’s best fit. While opposition worries about scaring off top talent because of the new provisions.

Amendment 13: Ends Dog Racing

“The humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida,” Amendment 13 reads.

The amendment will phase out prohibit pari-mutuel (a form of betting) operations on commercial dog racing, including on greyhounds, by the conclusion of 2020. Wagering on the outcome of live dog races in the State of Florida will also be prohibited. However, the amendment will not have an effect on other gaming activities.

Supports maintain that the amendment will reduce the deplorable conditions it perceives racing dogs tolerate. Opposition to Amendment 13 refute “cruel and inhumane” treatment to Greyhounds. They believe the amendment is government overreach and the animals are born to run.

Writer:Michael Mora
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