Elections

Constitutional Amendments, the Long Breakdown

October 24, 2018

There are 12 statewide ballot amendments to vote on this November and each one requires 60% of voters’ approval to pass. The official wording in several of these amendments is misleading and difficult to understand. In fact, several of the proposed amendments were challenged in court and one of them—Amendment 8—was thrown out, so don’t be surprised when our guide (and your ballot) jumps from Amendment 7 to Amendment 9.

Several of the amendments, including amendments 6, 7, 9,10, and 11 bundle together multiple proposed changes in Florida’s laws in a practice known as logrolling. Voters must approve or reject these amendments in an all-or-nothing fashion, meaning a ‘no’ vote rejects all parts of the amendment and a ‘yes’ vote approves all parts. For example, Amendment 9 bundles a proposed ban on offshore fossil fuel drilling and indoor vaping. If you love your Juul, but take issue with oil and gas industries, you’ll have to choose which one matters more to you.

Amendment 1: Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption

Amendments 1 and 2 both propose changes to property tax rates, which affect the tax bill property owners must pay each year. If you don’t own property, these taxes still affect you! Elected officials decide how property taxes are used to pay for things like roads, police departments, and water treatment facilities. Amendments 1 and 2 would not change taxes set by school boards; those taxes will remain unchanged.

What it does

Lowers taxes for homeowners whose homes are worth over $100,000.

IMPACTS Local governments would have $650 to $750 million less to fund police and fire departments. Some local governments would lose more than others and how they choose to make up for budget shortfalls is up to them, making the full scope of consequences of this tax break hard to predict.

Amendment 2: Limitations on Property Tax Assessments

Amendments 1 and 2 both propose changes to property tax rates, which affect the tax bill property owners must pay each year. If you don’t own property, these taxes still affect you! Elected officials decide how property taxes are used to pay for things like roads, police departments, and water treatment facilities. Amendments 1 and 2 would not change taxes set by school boards; those taxes will remain unchanged.

What it does

Keeps tax bills predictable for people who own special types of property like second homes, vacation properties, and business properties. It limits how much these types of properties can rise in value in a given year, so that a dramatic rise in property values doesn’t spike owners’ tax bills. This provision is currently in effect, but the proposed amendment is to make it permanent through the state’s constitution before it expires next year.

IMPACTS If passed, local governments will be delayed in providing residents with improved services and infrastructure when the economy is doing well. Proponents of the measure argue that it encourages investment in the state.

Amendment 3: Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

In Florida, casino gambling is only allowed in tribal facilities and in some parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. This form of gambling was legal for roughly two years in the 1930s before voters banned them through ballot amendments. As of now, the legislature retains the right to decide whether casino gambling can be expanded into non-tribal areas. The Seminole Tribe shares its revenue from casino gambling with the state through a 20-year compact signed with the state of Florida in 2015.

Amendment 3 proposes to give Florida voters “the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

What it does

Makes it so that the expansion of slot machine gambling in the state of Florida must be approved by voters through a ballot initiative.

IMPACTS This amendment would ensure that the expansion of gambling within the state would be slow and costly to expand. Its primary proponents are Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who have a business interest in limiting the emergence of any competitors in the state’s entertainment industry. The legislature would still retain the right to decide the expansion of dog racing, horse racing, the state lottery, and fantasy sports.

Amendment 4: Voting Restoration for Felons Initiative

After the abolition of slavery, many former Confederate states passed laws limiting the political rights of African Americans through criminalization and restrictions on voter eligibility. During this time, Florida legislators created a lifetime ban on voting for all people convicted of felonies. Though the law has seen some changes since then, it largely remains the same — all people convicted of felonies cannot vote for the rest of their lives until they pay off all fines owed to the state, wait five to seven years, and receive the approval of the Governor’s Board of Clemency.

What it does

People convicted of felonies would automatically regain the right to vote after serving their terms. People convicted of certain felonies, including murder or sexual felonies are not covered by Amendment 4.

IMPACTS Nearly 1.4 million Floridians has a past felony conviction that prevents them from exercising their right to vote. Most people who have served sentences for felony convictions in Florida are white, but the ban disproportionately affects black Floridians; 1 in 5 Black Floridians is not eligible to vote because of the ban. If passed, this amendment would be the largest number of people in the United States to be granted suffrage since the 19th Amendment granted white women the right to vote.

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

As of now, the Florida State Legislature needs a simple majority (more than half) to pass bills which raise state taxes or fees. Legislators can include tax and fee increases provisions in bills about multiple issues.

What it does

Amendment 5 proposes to require Florida State legislators to come to a two-thirds supermajority on tax increases and fees. It would require legislators to make tax or fee increases standalone bills that could not be tacked onto other bills.

IMPACTS This would make it more difficult to raise taxes, even in response to widespread emergencies like hurricanes.

Amendment 6: Rights of Crime Victims; Judges [LOGROLLS 3 PROPOSALS]

Please note that you must vote yes or no to all parts of this amendment; you cannot pick which parts of it to approve or reject.

What it does

1) Create a “bill of rights” for alleged victims of crime

2) Raise the age of retirement for the state’s judges from 70 to 75

3) Require judges to develop their own rulings instead of deferring to the way administrative agencies interpret the law

IMPACTS 1) The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida argues that creating a victim’s bill of rights is redundant because the state’s constitution already outlines rights for victims and the accused and that the proposed law would likely violate alleged criminals’ right to due process. Critics of Amendment 6 also point out that it does not provide any funding for victims or victims services, so how the law would be implemented if passed is unclear. Similar “bill of rights” for crime victims laws have been passed in five other states. Montana overturned its own law, citing issues with due process and South Dakota is in the process of amending its law due to its costs and administrative complications. 2) Raising the retirement age for Florida would make the state an outlier; most states require their judges to retire at age 70.

Amendment 7: First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities [LOGROLLS 3 PROPOSALS]

Please note that you must vote yes or no to all parts of this amendment; you cannot pick which parts of it to approve or reject.

What it does

1) Require university trustees to come to a two-thirds supermajority vote to raise college fees, excluding tuition

2) Require the state to pay death benefits and waive college tuition at some institutions for the families of first responders and military members killed on duty

3) Establish a state college system through Florida’s Constitution, which would include community colleges

IMPACTS 1) It would become harder for university trustees to raise fees. They would still be able to raise tuition with a simple majority, though. 2) The immediate family members of first responders killed on duty would receive death benefits from the State of Florida. 3) Community colleges and state colleges would become part of the state’s education system, which would mean they’d be overseen by a local District Board of Trustees.

Amendment 8: REMOVED

This amendment was removed from the ballot. To avoid confusing voters, officials decided to let the ballot jump from Amendment 7 to Amendment 9 rather than re-numbering each amendment.

Amendment 9: Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workspaces [LOGROLLS 2 PROPOSALS]

Please note that you must vote yes or no to all parts of this amendment; you cannot pick which parts of it to approve or reject.

What it would do

1) Ban offshore drilling for oil and gas in Florida’s ocean waters

2) Ban vaping or the use of electronic cigarettes in the same places it is currently illegal to smoke tobacco products

IMPACTS There is a current federal ban on drilling in Florida’s waters until 2022, but federal officials including the President have voiced interest in overturning this ban. Florida passing its own law would be an added layer of security for Florida’s waters, and by extension its tourist economy and mitigating the state’s contribution to climate change.

Amendment 10: State and Local Government Structure and Operation [LOGROLLS 4 PROPOSALS]

Please note that you must vote yes or no to all parts of this amendment; you cannot pick which parts of it to approve or reject.

What it does

1) Change language in the state’s constitution to say that the legislature was required to, rather than given permission to create a Department of Veterans Affairs (the state VA was created in 1989).

2) Create a state office of Domestic Security and Counter-Terrorism.

3) Require the state legislature to meet earlier in the year during election years.

4) Require each county in Florida to elect (rather than appoint) a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, and circuit court clerk.

IMPACTS 1) Nothing would change about the Department of Veterans Affairs; just the language about it in the state constitution. 2) The responsibilities of a Domestic Security and Counter-Terrorism are already fulfilled by local and federal police forces collaborating together. It is unclear what additional responsibilities this office would fulfill and how much it would cost to operate. 3) The state legislature would finish its term earlier in the year during election years, allowing legislators to better balance campaign work and and lawmaking. 4) Voters would have a more direct say in who holds many positions in government. Miami-Dade would lose its police director (who is appointed by the Mayor) and instead would hold a local election for its sheriff.

Amendment 11: Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes [LOGROLLS 3 PROPOSALS]

When laws become defunct or ruled unconstitutional in Florida, they aren’t automatically removed from the constitution. This amendment seeks to remove some language from the constitution that is outdated.

What it would do

1) Remove language from a now-unconstitutional “alien land law” designed to prevent Asian immigrants from owning land. The US Supreme Court ruled that these types of laws are unconstitutional, making Florida’s defunct.

2) Remove language requiring the legislature to build high-speed ground transportation. Voters overturned this provision in 2004, making it defunct.

3) Revises constitutional language so that people accused of crimes must be prosecuted by the most current statues.

Amendment 12: Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers

This amendment seeks to strengthen ethics rules for elected politicians and government employees.

What it would do

1) Former elected officials would have to wait six years instead of two before they’d be allowed to engage in lobbying.

2) Elected officials and public workers would be explicitly barred from using their jobs to gain a “disproportionate benefit” for themselves or their families.

Amendment 13: Ends Dog Racing

Caught between animal rights organizations and the gambling industry, legislators have been unable to reach a decision on the future of dog racing and have chosen to let voters decide. This amendment only has to do with commercial dog racing; no other forms of gambling will be affected. People can bet on dog races taking place in other states.

What it would do

Phase out commercial dog racing in the state by 2020.

IMPACTS Some estimates claim the commercial dog racing industry costs more to regulate than it generates in tax revenue. Regulation of this industry is necessary as the dogs have repeatedly tested positive for drugs like cocaine since 2008.

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