By DOTTY NIST
Eight proposed revisions to the Florida Constitution and five other proposed constitutional amendments will be on the ballot for voters in the November 2018 General Election.
The eight proposed amendments listed as Amendments 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 are the result of the work of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). The CRC held 15 public hearings in various locations across the state in 2017 and 2018 to take public input and hear proposals on potential revisions to the state constitution. The CRC’s 37 members were appointed by the governor, the Florida House speaker, the Florida Senate president, the state Supreme Court justice, and the state attorney general. Revision proposals by the public and commission members numbered over 300.
The CRC took a series of votes, arriving at a set of proposed revisions. On May 9, the commission submitted the eight proposed revisions to the Florida Secretary of State. All but a couple of the proposed revisions combine issues within the same amendment, a fact that has resulted in some consternation and criticism.
The CRC amendments
Amendment 6 sets forth constitutional rights for crime victims and requires their enforcement, along with and setting certain requirements for judges. The latter include that judges and hearing officers independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to the interpretation of governmental agencies. The amendment would also raise the mandatory retirement age for state judges and justices from 70 to 72 and remove authorization for a judge to complete his or her judicial term if half of the term has been served by retirement age.
Amendment 7 combines first responder and military member survivor benefits with certain voting requirements for university trustees and state university system boards of governors, along with establishing the existing state college system as a constitutional entity and providing a governance structure for that entity.
This amendment would mandate payment of death benefits by employers to firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers, correctional/probation officers, and Florida National Guard members who die during or as the result of accidental injury while performing their official duties. Conditions include that the first responder be working for the state or any of its political subdivisions or agencies, and that a military member be a resident of the state at the time or serving in a post within the state upon their death.
The voting requirement contained in Amendment 7 would mandate supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors in order for these bodies to raise or impose all legislatively-authorized fees if approval by those bodies is required by law.
Amendment 8 would create a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members, together with requiring the Florida Legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in the public schools. It would also allow the state of Florida to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board of the district within which the school is located. The latter is in contrast with the currently-existing constitutional duty for school boards to perform the latter duties in connection with all public schools.
Amendment 9 would prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters and would prohibit vaping in enclosed indoor workplaces.
(The Florida Constitution identifies the boundaries for state waters as three miles from the Atlantic coast and three leagues—approximately 10.4 land miles—from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.)
Amendment 10 would require the legislature to provide by law for a Department of Veterans’ Affairs and prescribe its duties, with the department to be headed by the governor and cabinet. It would require election rather than hiring/appointment of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of courts in all counties—and remove the ability of county charters to abolish, change terms, or transfer duties for these offices. It would change the date for the beginning of the legislative session in even-numbered years from March to January and remove the ability of the legislature to set a different starting date. In addition, this amendment would create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism within the state Department of Law Enforcement.
Amendment 11 would remove a current provision that ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real property by aliens who are not eligible for citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law. It would remove a provision that revision of a criminal statute would not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed prior to the revision—but retain a current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute. In addition, the amendment would remove now-obsolete requirements for development and operation of a high-speed ground transportation system linking the five largest urban areas of the state (the Florida High Speed Corridor, cancelled in 2011).
Amendment 12 would expand current restrictions on paid lobbying by former public officers and create restrictions on paid lobbying by public officers currently serving and former justices and judges. It would also prohibit abuse of public position for a personal benefit by public officers and employees.
Amendment 13 would phase out commercial dog racing in association with wagering, with such activity to be mandated to end on Dec. 31, 2020, and with other gaming activities to not be affected by the amendment.
Legislature – sponsored amendments
Also on the 2018 General Election ballot will be several proposed constitutional amendments sponsored by the legislature. All three are tax-related.
Amendment 1, known as the Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption, would amend the state constitution to increase the homestead exemption. This would be done by exempting the assessed valuation of homesteaded property above $100,000 and up to $125,000 from all tax levies other than those for school district.
Amendment 2, another legislature-sponsored constitutional amendment, is entitled Limitations on Property Tax Assessments. The measure, if approved, would make permanent current provisions that limit property tax assessment increases on specific non-homesteaded property (except for school district taxes) to 10 percent each year. Without approval of this amendment, the previously-referenced current provisions would be repealed as scheduled in 2019.
Amendment 5, the remaining proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by the legislature, would prohibit the legislature from imposing, authorizing, or raising a state tax except by a supermajority vote (two-thirds vote in each chamber), with the bill being voted on required to contain no other subject. The amendment would not apply to local government, school board, or special district taxes.
Petition drive amendments
In addition, the ballot is to contain two proposed constitutional amendments that are the result of petition drives.
Amendment 3, Voter Control of Gambling in Florida, is sponsored by the Tallahassee-based Voters in Charge political committee. The measure would add a new Section 29 to Article X of the Florida Constitution. It would empower Florida voters to be the sole deciders of whether to authorize casino gambling through approval of such gambling in compliance with Article XI, Section 3 of the state constitution. The proposed amendment defines casino gambling and clarifies that the measure does not conflict with federal law in connection with state/tribal contracts.
Sponsored by the Clearwater-based political committee Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Inc., Amendment 4 is entitled “Voting Restoration Amendment.” The measure would restore the voting rights of state residents with felony convictions after completion of all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to persons convicted of murder or sexual offenses. As is currently the case, these persons would still be permanently prohibited from voting, in the absence of a decision by the governor and cabinet, on a case-by-case basis, to restore their voting rights
At least 60 percent of the vote will be required in order for a constitutional amendment to be approved.
The date for the 2018 General Election is Nov. 6, with early voting dates for Walton County to be determined.
Detailed information on the proposed constitutional amendments is available online on the Florida Divisions of Elections website at the link: https://tinyurl.com/yce8y439.