On The Ballot

62

By: former Boca Councilman Robert Weinroth Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

Over the next month, you can rest assured there will be a great deal of attention paid to the multitude of ballot questions voters will be asked to review during next month’s general election.

With the number and complexity of questions being placed before our residents in November, it will be incumbent on voters to have their decisions made before arriving at the local precinct to cast a ballot.

If ever there was a strong argument for opting to Vote by Mail, this is it. Long lines and delays can be anticipated as those residents who are first confronted with the ballot questions are forced to read, digest and decide how to vote.

Eight questions were placed on the ballot as a result of the Constitutional Revision Commission, a 37-member body established once every 20 years for the purpose of reviewing Florida’s Constitution and proposing changes for voter consideration.

The CRC met last year, identifying issues, performing research and recommending possible changes to the Constitution. Amendments approved by the CRC are placed directly on the ballot where, as with all other ballot questions, 60 percent of the vote is required for each amendment to be approved.

The CRC, unlike the legislature and citizens seeking to place a question on the ballot, is empowered to combine approved revisions. This year, the Commission opted to distill its recommended constitutional revisions into eight proposals.

In some cases, voters will be faced with revisions where they support only part. Approval of a proposed revision will enact all matters contained therein. Thus voter will be left balancing the issues contained within the proposals to determine whether to approve or reject the proposal.

To make matters more complicated, many of the CRC proposals have been the subject of court challenges with the claim that they voters were not offered language that clearly set out the consequences of approval. Several were tossed by the Court only to be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

The following is a summary of the proposals that are, as of this writing, due to be presented to voters. Things may change between now and the election and it is unknown if the numbering of the questions will be revised as questions are stricken.

To review the full language of the CRC proposals, go to: http://flcrc.gov/PublishedContent/ADMINISTRATIVEPUBLICATIONS/CRCFinalReport.pdf

QUESTION 1: (Placed on ballot by legislature)

If approved, this proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution will increase the Homestead Property Tax Exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000 for all levies, except school districts and will take effect January 1, 2019.

According to an analysis by the League of Women Voters of Florida (which, along with the Florida Policy Institute; Florida League of Cities; Progress Florida; Florida Education Association; and Florida Association of Counties oppose the amendment), the new provision would:

– Allow homeowners to deduct up to another $25,000 from the taxable value of a home worth more than $100,000, starting on Jan. 1, 2019.

– Exclude local school taxes from the new exemption;

– Cost Florida’s cities, counties and other taxing authorities an estimated $687.5 million annually, (over $27 million in Palm Beach County); and

– Potentially result in reduced services and/or higher local rates to make up for revenue losses.

QUESTION 2: (Placed on the ballot by legislature)

This is a companion to Question 1 dealing with non-Homestead real property. This is a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution would permanently retain a limit on property tax assessment increases, except for school district taxes, at no greater than 10 percent each year. The amendment would remove the scheduled repeal in 2019.

According to an analysis by the League of Women Voters of Florida (which, along with the Florida Education Association, oppose the amendment), the new provision would:

– Make permanent the 10 percent limit on increases in tax value for non-homestead property; and

– Continue to deny local governments (excluding school districts) tax revenue they would otherwise collect from rising property values.

QUESTION 3: (Citizen Initiative)

If approved, Question 3 will only permit the approval of new casino gambling through a citizen-initiative (barring the Legislature from making those gambling decisions and bar a future CRC from addressing it as well).

According to an analysis by the League of Women Voters of Florida (which along with No Casinos, Inc. and Disney support the approval of this Question):

– It precludes constitutional approval of casinos through other means, including amendments offered by the Legislature or by the CRC;

– It continues to allow the Legislature to approve other types of non-casino gambling, such as poker rooms, bingo, lotteries and fantasy sports;

– It allows the Legislature to oversee, regulate and tax any casino-type gambling that voters approve through a constitutional amendment; and

– It would have no affect on the state’s ability to negotiate casino agreements with Native-American

QUESTION 4: (Citizen Initiative) 

Known as the Voter Restoration Amendment, if approved, the Florida Constitution would be amended so most ex-felons who completed their full sentences (including paying fines, paying restitution, doing their prison time and completing parole or probation) would be granted the right to vote. It would not grant any other rights to ex-felons (e.g., the ability to sit on a jury, hold public office or possess a firearm).

People convicted of felonies, excluding those convicted of murder or felony sex crimes, would be eligibility to vote after completing all the terms of their sentence. Studies have shown that recidivism rates drop about 30 per cent when a person has their voting rights restored. With a lower recidivism rate, costs of incarceration go down, employment goes up translating into a positive impact on the Florida economy of over $350 million per year.

The amendment is supported by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition; Floridians for a Fair Democracy; American Civil Liberties Union; League of Women Voters of Florida; Progress Florida; Florida Policy Institute; Florida Education Association; and Florida National Organization for Women. It is opposed by Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy.

QUESTION 5: (Placed on ballot by legislature)

This amendment to the Florida Constitution will, if approved, require all increases in taxes or fees, or the creation of any new taxes or fees pass both chambers of the Legislature by a two-thirds vote.

Currently, nearly every bill related to taxes or fees only requires a simple majority on the House and Senate to pass. The amendment would expand supermajority requirements to include taxes on sales, gasoline, alcohol and unemployment, as well as fees for fishing, drivers licenses and concealed firearms licenses, to name a few. The amendment would require any tax or fee increase to be in a separate bill.

The amendment would not place any limits on tax or fee increases by local governments, such as cities and school boards.

Florida Tax Watch and the Florida Chamber of Commerce support Question 5. The League of Women Voters of Florida; Florida Policy Institute; Progress Florida; and Florida Education Association opposes it.

QUESTION 6 / CRC Revision 1: 

This is the first of a series of proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution initiated by the CRC.  It was struck from the ballot due to judicial challenges but the Supreme Court of Florida has restored it to the ballot.

If approved, the revision will revise and create additional rights for crime victims and increase the age after which a justice or judge may no longer serve in a judicial office; and require a state court or an officer hearing an administrative action to interpret a state statute or rule de novo in litigation between an administrative agency and a private party.

This revision would:

  • Enshrine in the state Constitution an array of victims rights, many of which are currently in state law;
  • Place new time limits on filing appeals;
  • Require that victims receive some type of written notification of their rights;
  • Eliminate an existing constitutional provision that ensures victims’ rights don’t infringe on the rights of accused criminals;
  • Raise the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices and judges from 70 to 75; and
  • Prohibit courts and judges from deferring to an administrative agency’s interpretation of state laws or rules when deciding cases.

While 37 Florida sheriffs and Florida Smart Justice support this proposal, the Florida Public Defender Association; ACLU of Florida; League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida Education Association oppose it.

Read November’s edition for the rest of the amendments.