Every couple of years come election time, friends and family are always asking me about the proposed constitutional amendments on their ballots — because there are always proposed amendments, and they’re almost always confusing.
Unfortunately, Florida law allows for proposed amendments to be placed on the ballot even when they’re deceptively worded or even combine multiple unrelated issues into one amendment. Sometimes courts catch the bad ones, but not always.
Here’s how I’m voting on the 12 (twelve!) proposed amendments on this year’s ballot:
Yes: 4, 9, 11 & 13
No: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10 & 12
Amendment 1: No
Amendment 1 would grant an additional $25,000 homestead property tax exemption for homes valued over $125,000 (owners of homes worth between $100,000 and $125,000 would receive a prorated additional exemption).
We already have plenty of homestead property tax exemptions on the books. This amendment would take more than $687 million away from local communities and cause city and county governments to have to either (a) cut services or (b) increase taxes or fees in other areas to make up the difference. It’s a ploy to cripple local governments and centralize more power in Tallahassee.
Amendment 2: No
Amendment 2 would permanently cap annual property value increases for non-homestead property (vacation homes, apartments, commercial property, vacant land, etc.) at 10% — a cap voters approved in 2008 but which is set to expire at the end of this year.
I don’t have a problem with the cap, but there’s no reason this language needs to be in the state constitution. This can and should be handled legislatively. It just doesn’t rise to the level of a constitutional amendment for me.
Amendment 3: No
Amendment 3 would essentially block any future gambling in Florida unless 60% of Florida voters specifically approve it.
Personally, I don’t have any moral objection to gambling, and I don’t like the idea of requiring a statewide vote for what I believe should generally be decisions made by local communities. Gambling may be appropriate for certain communities and inappropriate for others; but if citizens in Orlando or Miami or Key West want gambling, why should they have to convince voters in the rest of the state to let them have it?
Amendment 4: Yes
Amendment 4 would allow convicted felons who have served their time and paid their debt to society to regain their right to vote — with the exception of convicted murderers and felony sex offenders.
Florida’s blanket disenfranchisement of ex-felons is racist. Period. It dates back to the post-Civil War period and is designed to deny African-American citizens — who are and always have been disadvantaged at every level of our criminal justice system — their right to vote.
This is one of the single most important initiatives ever on a statewide ballot in Florida. If Amendment 4 passes, around 1.6 million Floridians could regain their right to vote. Allowing ex-felons to regain their right to vote will help them reintegrate into society and avoid reoffending. Studies have shown that recidivism rates drop about 30% if person has their voting rights restored.
Amendment 5: No
Amendment 5 would require a two-thirds vote of the Florida Legislature to approve any new or increased taxes and fees.
It’s just not smart to limit legislators like this, especially given that Florida law requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget each and every year. What happens when Florida has a state budget crisis and legislators can’t meet a lofty two-thirds threshold to raise revenue? Critical services like education and healthcare are going to get cut, that’s what.
Amendment 6: No
Amendment 6 is one of several proposed amendments which bundle completely unrelated measures together, which is something that is stupid and should be illegal. The amendment would do three things:
- Enshrine various victims rights — most of which already exist in regular old state law — in the state constitution. This part of the amendment is sometimes called “Marsy’s Law” as part of a campaign to pass similar legislation in other states.
- Raise the age that state judges and state Supreme Court justices must retire from 70 to 75.
- Require judges to interpret state laws and rules themselves rather than rely on interpretations by state government agencies.
I don’t have any issue with either of the two judge-related provisions. My issue is with the so-called “Marsy’s Law” section. Firstly, it’s not needed — the vast majority of the “victims rights” are already present in state law and don’t need to be written into the state constitution. Secondly, the amendment would eliminate existing constitutional protections for those accused of crimes, and that’s not cool.
Amendment 7: No
Amendment 7 also combines unrelated issues. It would do three things:
- Require supermajority votes from both a university’s board of trustees and the state’s board of governors before a university may add new student fees or increase existing ones.
- Enshrine rules for state colleges (not universities) that are currently in state law into the state constitution.
- Require state and local governments to pay a death benefit to the families of first responders and members of the military who are killed in the line of duty. State law already requires such benefits for law enforcement and corrections officers, firefighters, and Florida National Guard members; this amendment would expand that to include paramedics and emergency medical technicians as well as members of other U.S. armed forces who are residents of or stationed in Florida.
What a mess. The two education issues are better handled in state law and don’t need to be enshrined in the state constitution. As for the death benefits, the federal government already provides death benefits for members of the armed forces. Why would the state need to do so also?
Amendment 9: Yes
Amendment 9 combines two completely unrelated issues: vaping and offshore oil drilling. It would:
- Enshrine in the state constitution a ban on all offshore oil and gas drilling in Florida state waters.
- Ban the use of electronic cigarettes/vapes at indoor workplaces.
Even though I support both of these things, I’m tempted to vote no on principle. They should be separate proposals. But the stakes are too high. If Amendment 9 fails, proponents of offshore drilling will use its failure to claim that Floridians don’t care, and next thing you know, we’ll have oil rigs in sight of our beaches, and then we’re just Alabama. And no one wants to be Alabama.
Amendment 10: No
Amendment 10 combines FOUR separate issues. Sigh. Here’s what it would do:
- Require the state legislature to hold its 60-day legislative session beginning in January in even-numbered years.
- Create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
- Require the existence of a state Department of Veterans Affairs (it already exists, but its existence is currently optional).
- Force all of Florida’s 67 counties to hold elections for sheriff, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, tax collector and clerk of the circuit court.
I don’t care about any of the first three points — though they all, again, are more appropriately handled in state law than in the state constitution.
But the provision requiring every county — even those who have adopted county charters — to elect sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors and clerks of the circuit court is a clear attempt by the state legislature to restrict the powers of local government.
Local communities should be able to decide the government structure that best suits their community. Some Florida counties have adopted charters which changes or eliminate some of those elected positions; this amendment would remove local control and instead force those counties to bend to Tallahassee’s will.
Amendment 11: Yes
Winning the title of most boring amendment on this year’s ballot, Amendment 11 would remove obsolete language from the Florida constitution regarding property rights of non-citizens, criminal prosecutions, and high-speed rail.
All of the language proposed to be removed is obsolete, and should be removed, though there is plenty of other obsolete language in the state constitution that isn’t being addressed here. Better some than none, I guess.
Amendment 12: No
Amendment 12 would greatly expand prohibitions on lobbying by current and former elected officials and government employees.
Currently, legislators and other elected officials are prohibited from lobbying state government for two years after leaving office; Amendment 12 would increase the ban to six years. It would also:
- Prohibit legislators and statewide elected officials from lobbying federal and local government agencies while in office.
- Prohibit top state agency employees from any lobbying while working for the state and from lobbying state government for six years after leaving their job.
- Prohibit local elected officials from getting paid to lobby anyone while in office and from lobbying their own governing body 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” — which is not defined in Amendment 12 but would instead by defined later by the state’s Ethics Commission.
We need lobbying reform, but a six-year ban may be a bit much (it would be the longest such ban in any state). I’d prefer a four-year ban. I’m also not wild about voting for things with undefined terms, where the blanks will be filled in later by unelected bureaucrats.
Amendment 13: Yes
Amendment 13 would ban dog racing in Florida by December 31, 2020.
Dog racing is weird, and I’m fine with making it go away.