■ BY SUE ERWIN
Whether you’re filling out your ballot to vote early, or heading to the polls on November 6, you’ve likely been hearing and reading various opinion pieces about the constitutional amendments on the ballot for the 2018 general election.
The 12 constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot are the most since 1998, when the state’s Constitution Revision Commission put nine of the 13 amendments on the ballot. The CRC convened this year and placed eight amendments on the ballot.
Some measures have been grouped together on certain amendments, meaning voters will have to choose to approve or reject different proposals that have been linked or “bundled” to one amendment. For example, Floridians will have to decide whether they want to ban both vaping indoors and offshore drilling.
To be approved, a constitutional amendment requires 60 percent of the vote. Here is an explanation of what the 2018 amendments would do:
Amendment 1, Increase Homestead Property Tax Exemption, would raise a portion of a home’s value that can be exempted from non-school property taxes.The legislature voted to refer the exemption to the ballot, and the proposed changes would apply to the assessed value of a homestead property between $100,000 and $125,000, raising the maximum exemption to $75,000. This could save homeowners a few hundred dollars annually, but a legislative staff analysis estimated local governments, which rely on property taxes for revenue, would lose more than $600 million in the first year if the exemption were approved.
A YES vote would: Allowhomeowners to deduct an additional $25,000 from the taxable value of a home worth more than $100,000, starting on Jan. 1. 2019. It would also exclude local school taxes from the new exemption, and likely result in cuts to services or higher local rates to make up for the revenue losses.
A NO vote would: Retain the current homestead tax exemptions, which total $50,000 and have no effect on the amount of tax revenue collected by city and county governments.
Amendment 2, Limitations on Property Tax Assessments, would make permanent an existing cap on non-homestead property assessments. Such property tax assessment increases have been limited to 10 percent of the previous year’s assessed value since 2008, when another constitutional amendment that capped the increases passed.
A YES vote would cement the 10 percent limit on increases in tax value for non-homestead property, thus reducing tax bills.
A NO vote would end the practice of limiting tax increases on non-homestead property by limiting property-value increases to 10 percent.
Supporters of 2 include the Florida Association of Realtors, Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Tax Watch.
Robert Weissert, who works as the executive vice president and counsel at Florida TaxWatch, said if voters approved Amendment 2, then the state would maintain an economically healthy status quo. In a Facebook Live panel on Monday, Weissert was careful not to pitch the proposal as a “tax cut,” explaining that if the proposal were to be shot down by voters, it would result in a $700 million tax increase.
Amendment 3, Voter Control of Gambling in Florida, a citizen-initiated amendment would give voters the exclusive right to decide to authorize expansions of casino gambling in Florida. That authority currently resides with both the legislature and voters, through a former constitutional amendment. It requires approval of any new casino gambling through a citizen-initiative constitutional amendment, effectively barring the legislature from making those gambling decisions by passing laws.
Though the legislature has tried in recent years to pass gambling bills that would address the state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe and allow for some expansion of casinos, efforts have been denied by the House, which is more opposed to gambling.
A YES vote would prevent constitutional approval of casinos through other means, including amendments offered by the legislature. It would continue to allow the legislature to approve other types of non-casino gambling, such as poker rooms, bingo, lotteries and fantasy sports. It would allow the legislature to oversee, regulate and tax any casino-type gambling that voters approve through a constitutional amendment. It would not effect the state’s ability to negotiate casino agreements with Native Americans.
A NO vote would continue to allow casino gambling either though new laws passed by the legislature or through various types of constitutional amendments.
Supporters of 3 include the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Amendment 4, Voting Restoration Amendment, would restore voting rights to former felons if they have served their time, with the exception of those convicted of murder or felony sex offenses. For the past seven years, the state has required that felons wait at least five years after their sentences are complete to apply to regain voting rights.
A YES vote would grant felons (excluding those convicted of murder or sex crimes) the right to vote after completing the terms of their sentence. The Governor’s Clemency Board studies have shown that recidivism (repeating an offense) rates have dropped about 30 percent if a felon has had his or her voting rights restored. Another study shows that with a lower recidivism rate, costs of incarceration go down and employment goes up resulting in a positive impact on the state economy.
A NO vote would continue the current requirement that felons wait a minimum of five years before applying to have their voting rights restored, and then appear before the governor to appeal for those rights. This would continue to allow the governor sole authority to determine whether a felon is allowed to vote.
Supporters of 4 include the Civil Liberties Union, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Floridians for a Fair Democracy and the Florida Education Association.
Opponents of 4: Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy.
Amendment 5, Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees, another proposal from lawmakers that would require a two-thirds super-majority vote in the legislature to impose, approve or raise state taxes and fees. The higher threshold means it would only take a third of members in either the state House or Senate to block any future tax increases or repeal existing exemptions. The proposal would increase mandatory retirement.
A YES vote would require any new or increased taxes or fees be voted on in stand-alone bills, and exclude local government from any supermajority requirements (two-thirds if they choose to raise taxes or fees.
A NO vote would allow the legislature to continue approving increased or new taxes and fees through a simple majority vote (at least 51 percent of the votes). It would also allow the legislature to continue bundling tax and fee increases with bills that include other measures.
Supporters of 5: Florida Tax Watch, Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Opponents of 5: Florida Education Association, Florida Policy Institute.
Amendment 6, Rights of Crime Victims; Judges, the amendment links three proposals that would create a bill of rights for crime victims and set new requirements for judges.
The proposal would vastly expand the scope of victims rights under the state Constitution, increase the mandatory retirement age for judges to 75 to 70, effective July 1, 2019, and would bar judges from deferring to administrative agencies’ interpretations of a rule or statute when ruling in cases involving those laws, forcing courts and judges to interpret rules for themselves rather then rely on interpretations by government agencies.
A YES vote would place new limits on final appeals, require that victims receive some type of written notification of their rights, eliminate an existing provision that ensures victims’ rights don’t infringe on the rights of accused criminals, and prohibit courts and judges from deferring to another agency’s interpretation of state laws when decided cases.
A NO vote would retainvictims ‘rights in the Constitution and state law, keep the mandatory retirement age for judges at 70 and continue to allow judges and courts to rely on state agencies when decided cases.
Supporters of 6: 37 elected Florida Sheriffs.
Opponents of 6: ACLU of Florida, Florida Public Defender Association
Amendment 7, First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities, would pull together three proposals providing college tuition for the survivors of first responders and military members killed performing official duties, requiring university trustees to agree by a two-thirds super-majority to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies.
A YES vote would force university boards of trustees and the state Board of Governors to get supermajority approval from their members to increase students fees or impose new ones; create a constitutional requirement for state and local governments to pay death benefits to first responders; expand the definition of first responders to include paramedics and emergency medical technicians; require the state to pay death benefits to members of the U.S. military who are either Florida residents or stationed in the state.
A NO vote would continue allowing universities to increase student fees or impose new ones with a simple majority of votes (at least 50 percent of the votes) and maintain the current definition of first responders which excludes paramedics and emergency medical technicians; continue to provide death benefits to families of National Guardsmen killed in the line of duty, but not extend those benefits to the families of U.S. service members who live in Florida.
Supporters of 7: Association of Florida Colleges
Opponents of 7: Florida Education Association
Amendment 8, was struck from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court Sept. 7.
Amendment 9, Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping (e-cigarettes) in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces, would prohibit drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters with a proposal to add vaping to the ban on smoking indoors.
A YES vote would preserve in the Constitution a ban on oil and gas drilling beneath Florida state waters; exempt shipment of oil and gas on Florida’s waters; add new restrictions to the constitution on the use of electronic vaping devices, largely mirroring current constitutional restrictions on indoor workplace smoking; allow local governments to pass stricter regulations on the use of vaping devices.
A NO vote would keep a drilling ban out of the state Constitution but would not alter existing state laws that ban drilling; allow Florida legislatures to change the current law that bans offshore drilling in state controlled waters; keep restrictions on vaping and the use of vaping devices out of the state Constitution; leave any such vaping restrictions up to the discretion of the state legislature.
Supporters of 9: Florida Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Progress Florida
Opponents of 9: Florida Petroleum Council; Associated Industries of Florida, Consumer for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association
Amendment 10, State and Local Government Structure and Operation, would link four proposals; one to have the state’s legislative session start in January rather than March in even-numbered years, two that would create an office of domestic security/counter-terrorism office and retain the state department of veteran’s affairs, and a proposal that would require five county level officials to be elected, including sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors and clerks of court.
A YES vote would fix the date for state legislative sessions in even-numbered years as the second Tuesday in January; create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department if Law Enforcement and establish it as the lead agency in terrorism investigations; Force the Legislature to always have a Department of Veteran’s Affairs; Force all Florida counties to hold elections for five county level officials.
A NO vote would continue allowing the legislature to set a state date for its lawmaking session in even-numbered years; reject a constitutionally mandated Office of Security and Counterterrorism under the FDLE; reject a constitutionally mandated Department of Veterans’ Affairs; allow Florida counties to continue determining the duties of five county officials.
Supporters of 10: Florida’s 66 elected Sheriffs, Tax Collectors, Clerks of the Courts and the Property Appraisers
Opponents of 10: League of Women Voters Of Florida
Amendment 11, Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes, would revise the Constitution to remove some discriminatory language related to real property rights, including a provision that stops “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and repeal a provision for a high-speed ground (rail) transportation system. It would also remove the provision that amendment of a criminal statue will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.
A YES vote wouldrepeal a nearly century-old provision that allows the Legislature to restrict the property rights of non-citizens, delete language that requires criminal suspects to be prosecuted under the provisions of the law they’re accused of breaking, even is that law has been changed; deletes a section of the constitution – concerning high speed transportation – that was repealed by voters in 2004. The language, however, was not removed.
A NO vote would continue to allow the Legislature to pass laws restricting the property rights of non-citizens; continue to mandate that criminal suspects be prosecuted under the law they’re accused of breaking even if the state changes that law; retain a section of the constitution about high-speed transportation even though voters repealed that section in 2004.
Amendment 12, Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officials, a proposal that would bar public officials from lobbying both during their terms and for six years following, and restrict current public officers from using their office for personal benefit. It expands ethics rules for elected officials and government employees, notably be expanding from two to six year time that many officials would have to wait before they could lobby state government.
A YES vote would extend the ban on state lobbying by legislators and statewide elected officials from two to six years; prohibit legislators and statewide elected officials from lobbying federal and local government agencies while in office; prohibit top state agency employees from lobbying while working for the state and lobbying state government for six years after leaving office; prohibit judges from lobbying any branch of state government for six years after leaving the bench; prohibit any elected official or public employee from using his or her position to gain a “disproportionate benefit” (a term to be defined by the state Ethics Commission).
A NO vote would keep in place the current constitutional restrictions on lobbying by sitting and former government officials.
Supporters of 12: Common Cause; Florida Policy Institute
Opponents of 12: Florida Chamber of Commerce
Amendment 13, Ends Dog Racing, is a single proposal that would end commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected. There are about a dozen tracks in Florida, and the practice has drawn criticism from animal rights advocates who proclaim the practice is inhumane.
A YES vote would ban all wagering on any type of dog racing, while continuing to allow dog tracks to offer other types of gambling, including card rooms and slot machines.
A NO vote would continue to allow waging on dog racing in Florida.
Supporters of 13 include Grey2K USA, PETA and other animal rights organizations.
Opponents of 13 include the Florida Greyhound Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The website JustVoteNoOn13.orgargues that the language on the amendment is vague and misleading and opens the door for lawsuit by radical groups against hunting and fishing. The website claims the amendment does not end betting on dog racing, it simply allows pari-mutuels (a betting system in which all bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool) in Florida to simulcast dog races from other states.
An article in the Tampa Bay Times stated that A Leon County judge ruled Aug. 1 that this amendment should be removed from the ballot, saying that the measure misleads voters. The state appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which reversed that ruling and ordered the amendment remain on the ballot.
Early voting for the general election began October 22 and will go through Nov. 3.
*Information taken from dos.myflorida.com/elections and bereadytovote.org.