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A briefer look at the constitutional amendments than you'll find on the ballot
By Pat Andrews
posted Oct 10, 2012 - 3:46:28pm
Voters will have to slog their way through 11 proposed changes to the Florida Constitution when they vote in the general election Nov. 6. The admendments will use up a lot of words on what's going to be a long ballot, so here's an advance peek at them. Go to the Florida Division of Elections to read the long version.
Not surprisingly, since Republicans control the Legislature, which put all of the proposed changes on the ballot, the Republican Party of Florida recommends voters say yes to all but one, on which the party has taken no official position.
The League opposes adding to the state constitution proposals that specify, limit, exempt or prohibit tax sources or revenue. A number of the proposed amendments would do that by reducing property taxes.
While reducing property taxes may sound good to the Legislature, it sounds less good to the local governments who have to make up the difference, or to the property owners who get the burden shifted to them when discounts they aren't eligible for are made into law.
Anyway, here are the proposed amendments, titled as they will appear on the ballot, with the Republican Party of Florida's and the League of Women Voters' takes on each of them. The list starts with Amendment 5 on state courts, because that's the one the Republican Party has labeled "no opinion." Republicans in the Legislature back it.
No. 5. State Courts. This would require that Supreme Court justices appointed by the governor must also be confirmed by the Florida Senate before taking office. The amendment would also allow the Legislature to repeal a court rule by a simple majority vote instead of the two-thirds majority now required. It would allow the Florida House to review all files of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, without regard to whether the request is specifically related to impeachment considerations.
This proposed amendment has sparked a firestorm of controversy. Critics say it would put the courts under the Legislature's control, eliminating separation of powers, and that it would subject the nonpartisan courts to partisan political pressures.
League: Judges should be appointed by the governor from a list of nominees selected by a panel composed of Florida Bar members and lay members, and judges should be retained in office by a periodic review and election process. "The League also believes an independent judiciary is essential to the balance of power, and feels that this amendment weakens the judiciary in favor of the legislative branch."
Republicans: "No opinion." Proponents say the measure will make the courts more efficient.
No. 1. Health Care Services. This would allow Florida to opt out of the federal health-care reform known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
League: Florida has the second-highest rate of uninsured citizens in the U.S., and the act emphasizes access for all and control of costs. If passed, the amendment could conflict with federal law and be deemed unconstitutional.
Republicans: The amendment could prohibit a "Massachusetts-like"or socialized health-care law down the road.
No. 2. Veterans Disabled Due to Combat Injury; Homestead Property Tax Discount. This would extend the homestead exemption to disabled vets who were not Florida residents when they entered military service.
League: There should be no increase or extension of homestead exemption. This one would cost local governments $15 million in the first three years.
Republicans: While it would reduce local tax revenues, the tax break could help stimulate Florida's housing industry.
No. 3. State Government Revenue Limitation — replaces the existing state-revenue limitation based on Florida personal income growth with a new limitation based on inflation and population changes. League: The resulting revenue loss — more than $11 billion in 10 years — would have drastic consequences on schools, roads, health care and other services, though misleading language implies the amendment will help fund schools. Republicans: The change would force lawmakers to spend responsibly, though the Broward Republican Executive Committee noted that Colorado voters approved a similar measure in 1992, then suspended it because of resulting cuts to vital public services. More than 20 state legislatures have rejected similar proposals.
4. Property Tax Limitations, Property Value Decline; Reduction for Non-Homestead Assessment Increases; Delay of Scheduled Repeal — would limit the annual growth in assessment on non-homestead property from 10 percent to 5 percent, and prohibit increases in homestead property assessment when its market value decreases; would give first-time homesteaders an additional exemption, and give out-of-state residents homestead tax-exemption benefits.
League: This would cost local governments $1 billion in just the first three years. Republicans: This will make property taxes more manageable and stable, but could cause local governments to raise millage (property-tax) rates.
6. Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights — Federal law already prohibits use of federal funds for most abortion; the amendment would enshrine the ban in the state constitution.
League: In a diverse society, public policy must affirm the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive choices.
Republicans: Putting abortion bans in the constitution would make them much harder to repeal later.
8. (Formerly 7; now, there is no 7) Religious Freedom — would repeal the Florida Constitution's prohibition on state funding of religious organizations.
League: Agrees with other opponents that this a move to enable school-voucher programs. The League supports a free public-school system, adequately funded through the state. Republicans: This would allow churches and other religious organization to deliver non-sectarian social services with help from state funding.
9. Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouse of Military Veteran or First Responder — would grant full homestead property-tax relief to surviving spouses of veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty.
The League: This would cost local governments $1.8 million in the first three years. Republicans: The measure was unanimously approved by the House and Senate.
10. Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption — would double the tax exemption on business equipment and furniture from $25,000 to $50,000.
The League: This is another state-mandated cut to local revenues, costing $61 million in the first three years. Republicans: this would benefit 150,000 business who face inflation and tough times.
11. Additional Homestead Exemption for Low-Income Seniors who Maintain Long-Term Residency on Property; Equal to Assessed Value — grants full homestead property tax relief to low-income seniors who have lived in their home for at least 25 years.
The League: is opposed — it would cost local governments $27.8 million over the first three years. Republicans: The amendment passed the House and Senate unanimously; it will help seniors on fixed budgets.
12.Appointment of Student Body President to Board of Governors of the State University System — replaces the president of the Florida Student Association on the board which governs the state university system with the chair of a new council composed of student body presidents. Florida State University, which does not participate in FSA, has lobbied for the amendment.
League: "The League believes that the Constitution should be a simple, understandable and integrated statement of basic law, free from obsolete and statutory detail." Republicans: The measure passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 37-3.
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