Amendment awareness: Everything you need to know about the language on the ballot

Registered voters in Osceola County have the opportunity to vote on 12 Florida Constitutional Amendments in the Nov. 6 General Election.

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

Osceola County voters will have many important decisions to make on Election Day – including U.S. senators, representatives and the state’s next governor.

If that weren’t enough, there’s 12 state constitutional amendments to consider, making this the second longest ballot in recent history, according to Kari Ewalt, community relations coordinator at the Osceola County Supervisor of Elections.

“Voters may have a hard time understanding the amendments and the impact they will have,” Ewalt said. “Voters should know that they are allowed to skip any amendments that they do not wish to vote on.”

Every 20 years, the Constitution Revision Commission gets a chance to place amendments on the ballot for voters. Items can also make their way there through citizen support via petition signatures as well as by the Florida legislature.

Of the 12 amendments on the ballot:

• Three were proposed by the legislature.

• Seven were introduced by the CRC.

• Two are on the ballot ,thanks to voter initiatives.

Adding an item to the state constitution is considered more permanent than simply signing a bill into law.  Some amendments have already faced controversy, with the Florida Supreme Court removing Amendment 8 from the ballot, and three others are being challenged in the courts.

The CRC’s amendments are unusual and have been criticized for “bundling” less popular questions with more favorable ones. Amendment 9 is a prime example, as it combines a ban on offshore oil drilling with a ban on e-cigarettes at work.

Osceola voters will decide where they stand on a host of issues – from restoring voting rights to former felons to taxes to gambling – come Tuesday. An amendment needs a 60 percent majority to become part of the Florida Constitution.

Florida Constitutional Amendments

Amendment 1: Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption

Introduced by the Florida Legislature.

A YES Vote on A1 would put about $200 to $300 per year back into homesteaded homeowners’ pockets by providing $25,000 additional homestead tax exemption. But the loss of tax revenue would cost municipalities and counties an estimated $645 to $753 million in the first year, growing to over $815 million after the fifth year. This would make it difficult to fund police and fire services, according to the Florida League of Counties.

Amendment 2: Limitations on Property Tax Assessments

Introduced by the Florida Legislature.

A YES Vote on A2 would protect taxpayers from sudden property tax increases during boom years. It reinforces an existing cap that limits property tax assessment increases to 10 percent annually for “non-homestead” property (mostly commercial or rental properties). It would prevent the repeal of the cap scheduled to expire in 2019.

Florida TaxWatch argues that adopting A2 is crucial to prevent a tax increase.

If it doesn’t pass, owners of non-homestead properties would pay taxes on the full value of properties beginning in January.

Amendment 3: Voter Control of Gambling in Florida

Introduced through a citizen’s initiative.

A YES Vote on A3 would give voters the right to approve any expansion of casino gambling in Florida, including slot machines, blackjack, roulette and craps.

But Amendment 3 wouldn’t make it easier for a casino to open. In fact, it would do the opposite. If it passes, the measure would require anyone who wanted to build a casino to get hundreds of thousands of signatures just to get it on the ballot, where it would then need to get voter approval.

Voters who oppose casinos strongly support A3.

Amendment 4: Voting Rights Restoration

Introduced by a citizens’ initiative.

A YES Vote on A4 would restore voting rights to former felons who served their sentence except for those convicted of murder and sexual offenses. Currently, former felons must wait at least five years after completing their sentences to ask the Florida Clemency Board, made up of the governor and his cabinet, to restore their rights.

If passed, Amendment 4 would impact 1.5 million Floridians.

Amendment 5: Super-majority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees

Introduced by Florida Legislature.

A YES Vote on A5 would require a super-majority (two-thirds vote in the Florida House and Senate) to impose new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones. A5 was added by the current legislature arguing it should be more difficult to raise taxes than it is to cut them.

Currently, the state Legislature can raise most taxes through a simple majority. It also requires that any tax or fee increase be a stand-alone bill.

Detractors are deeply concerned the A5 contains no exception for times of disaster or other emergencies.

Amendment 6: Rights of Crime Victims, Judicial Retirements

Introduced by Constitutional Revision Commission.

A YES Vote on A6 would give victims of crimes additional rights (like the expectation of being “reasonably protected from the accused,” and the right to have judges consider victims’ safety when setting bail).

But it’s bundled with the requirement to raise the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. And it requires judges to not consider a state agency’s interpretation of a law when interpreting the law themselves.

While some Florida sheriffs support the amendment because it beefs up victims’ rights, it’s duplicative since victims are already protected in the Constitution, and the amendment would eliminate an existing provision that ensures victims’ rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.

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

Introduced by Constitutional Revision Commission.

This is one of three amendments being challenged in the state Supreme Court.

A YES Vote on A7 would grant surviving spouses of military members and first responders killed in the line of duty payment of death benefits from the state and wave some educational costs at public institutions for the children of some first responders.

But A7 also proposes a required super-majority vote by university trustees and state university board of governors to raise or impose legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies.

The Florida Supreme Court removed Amendment 8.

Amendment 9: Ban of off shore drilling and vaping in indoor workplaces.

Introduced by Constitutional Revision Commission.

A YES Vote on A9 would prohibit oil drilling beneath waters controlled by Florida, and in another example of amendment bundling, it would also ban the use of e-cigarettes at indoor work. This amendment in particular has been coitized for its strange juxtaposition of issues.

Amendment 10: State and Local Government Structure and Operation

Introduced by Constitutional Revision Commission.

A10 bundles four proposals. A YES Vote would:

•Have the state’s legislative session start in January every year instead of March in even-numbered years and January in odd-numbered years.

•Create a counter-terrorism office.

•Make the state veterans’ affairs department constitutionally required.

•Require elections in each county for tax collectors, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, clerks of circuit court and sheriffs.

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

Introduced by Constitutional Revision Commission.

A YES Vote on A11 would:

• Florida’s Constitution currently has language that allows the legislature to prevent non-citizens from buying, selling, owning or inheriting property. Amendment 11 would delete this language.

• Would delete language approving a high-speed rail. Floridians voted down the high-speed rail project in 2004, but the language was never removed.

Amendment 12: Lobbying and Abuse of Office by Public Officers

Introduced by the Constitutional Revision Commission.

A YES Vote on A12 would bar public officials from lobbying during their terms and for six years following. It would also restrict current public officers from using their office for personal gain. It expands ethics rules for public officials — both elected officials and government employees, including judges.

With the Florida Legislature’s eight-year term limit, lawmakers-turned-lobbyists would be unable to lobby most former colleagues. Many government-watchdog groups support this amendment.

Amendment 13: Ends Dog Racing

Introduced by Constitutional Revision Commission.

A YES vote on A13 would ban greyhound racing in Florida by 2021 (already illegal in 40 states). Track owners would keep their gambling permits if they stop racing by 2019. There are 11 Florida tracks currently in business. There are only 17 in the country total.

For more information and clarification, Ewalt suggests that voters visit the League of Women Voters website at www.lwvfl.org/amendments.