Amendments to the Florida State Constitution, 2018
This year's ballot in Martin County includes 12 amendments to the state constitution. Ballotpedia offers a good overview of the process of putting amendments on the ballot here. Three of the measures (amendments 1,2, and 5) were added by the state legislature and two (amendments 3 and 4) were added by citizen initiative. Amendment 4 (restoring civil rights to felons) was a classic grassroots effort while amendment 3 (voter approval of casino gambling) relied to a great extent on paid canvassers financed by groups interested in keeping out competitors (Disney Worldwide Services for their resort operations and the Seminole tribe to protect their casino monopoly).
Eight more (amendments 6- 13) were added by Florida's Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) which meets every 20 years. The amendments placed on the ballot by the CRC this year stirred up considerable controversy because of "bundling"- the practice of combining loosely related items into a single amendment. One of those, amendment 8, which combined three separate provisions relating to education, was removed from the ballot by the Florida State Supreme Court.
Various groups have offered their recommendations on how people should vote, including:
League of Women Voters (LWV)
Florida League of Cities (FLC)
A local progressive group, Florida 18 Voters, recommends a YES vote on amendments 3, 4, 9, and 13 and NO on all the others.
Summary of Amendments
The official ballot summary reads: "Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to increase the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000 for all levies other than school district levies. The amendment shall take effect January 1, 2019."
Amendment 1 grants an additional $25,000 homestead exemption for homes assessed for $125,000 or more. This measure is opposed by all three of the groups listed above. The Progressive Caucus observes that the amendment will "force local governments to cut public services or raise local taxes." The League of Cities states that passage of the amendment is expected to cost municipalities, counties and special districts $644.7 million per year. Estimates for the loss of revenue to Martin County are in the range of $6- 8 million/year. A little-noticed bill passed by the legislature in 2017 (HB 7107) would reimburse some "fiscally constrained" counties for revenue lost if Amendment 1 passes. Martin County is not one of those counties.
LWV, FLC, DPCF- all NO
"Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to permanently retain provisions currently in effect, which limit property tax assessment increases on specified nonhomestead real property, except for school district taxes, to 10 percent each year. If approved, the amendment removes the scheduled repeal of such provisions in 2019 and shall take effect January 1, 2019."
Current law caps assessment increases on non-homestead properties (mostly commercial properties, rental properties, vacant land, and second homes) to 10%. A NO vote on Amendment 2 would allow the cap to expire on January 1, 2019. A YES vote would make the cap permanent. From the League of Women Voters: The League's position is that “no tax sources or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the Constitution.”
LWV, DPCF- NO
"This amendment ensures that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling by requiring that in order for casino gambling to be authorized under Florida law, it must be approved by Florida voters pursuant to Article XI, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. Affects articles X and XI. Defines casino gambling and clarifies that this amendment does not conflict with federal law regarding state/tribal compacts."
Requires voter approval to establish casino gambling and takes that authority away from the legislature. This bill would not effect pari-mutuel wagering (horse racing, dog racing, and jai alai) and would also not effect casino regulation on tribal lands. This bill would require a citizen initiative to authorize new casinos. Like any amendment, a citizen initiative requires 60% approval by voters for passage.
LWV, DPCF- YES
"This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis."
Florida is one of only 4 states where convicted felons do not regain the right to vote, until a state officer or board restores the individual's voting rights. This policy currently deprives approximately 1,500,000 Floridians of the right to vote with a disproportionate impact on minority voters. For more information on this amendment, see articles in Ballotpedia and the Florida Association of Counties.
LWV, DPCF- YES
"Prohibits the legislature from imposing, authorizing, or raising a state tax or fee except through legislation approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature in a bill containing no other subject. This proposal does not authorize a state tax or fee otherwise prohibited by the Constitution and does not apply to fees or taxes imposed or authorized to be imposed by a county, municipality, school board, or special district."
With the exception of the corporate income tax, the legislature is currently able to raise taxes or fees by with a simple majority vote in both houses of the legislature. Raising corporate income taxes above 5.0% requires a 3/5 majority. In stating its opposition, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida notes that Amendment 5 "Will tie the hands of future legislatures making it nearly impossible to address budget needs, such as teacher raises and natural catastrophes."
LWV, DPCF- NO
"Creates constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age."
This is the first of six "bundled" amendments from the Constitutional Revision Commission. Three original proposals were rolled into a single amendment. The three original proposals concerned victims rights (also known as Marsy's Law), mandatory retirement age of judges, and making government agency interpretation of laws subservient to judicial interpretation. In stating its opposition, the League of Women Voters states: "Victims’ rights are already protected in the Constitution, and this amendment would eliminate an existing provision that victims’ rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused."
LWV, DPCF- NO
"Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure."
More bundling. The League of Women Voters notes: "We oppose a supermajority vote to increase fees or taxes. Family members of the military who die in the line of service are already compensated through the federal government."
LWV, DPCF- NO
Amendment 8 was removed from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court.
"Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances."
No offshore drilling and no indoor vaping. This amendment would prohibit drilling 3 miles off the shore on the Atlantic side and 10.5 statute miles on the Gulf side of the peninsula. Florida law currently allows local ordinances which restrict vaping, typically in indoor workplaces and restaurants, but not bars. The rationale for bundling these two issues was that both have health and economic consequences. Pro-energy groups oppose this amendment while pro-environment groups are for it. The Progressive Caucus' pithy summary of their reason to support this amendment: "Concern for the environment overrides concern about putting vaping in the Constitution." The League of Women Voters also feels it’s necessary to send a message to the federal government that Floridians care about the issue of off-shore drilling.
LWV, DPCF- YES
"Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even- numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement."
20 of Florida's 67 counties are "charter counties" and are home to 75% of Florida's population. Charter counties are able to redefine duties or even abolish "constitutional" offices required in non-charter counties. From the League of Women Voters: "This limits the voters in local communities from deciding on the election of county officers. It adds an unnecessary provision as the Constitution already has the power to set dates during even numbered years. FDLE is already the lead agency in coordinating efforts to prevent terrorism, and the Constitution already has authorized the Legislature to create a Department of Veteran Affairs. This amendment is clearly an effort to restrict the powers of local government."
LWV, DPCF- NO
"Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute."
The Florida Constitution currently has a clause that allows the Legislature the authority to prevent foreign-born persons ineligible for citizenship from owning, inheriting, buying or selling property. This amendment attempts to repeal these property-rights restrictions. The second part of this measure affects criminal defendants. If a new law goes into effect that reduces the sentence for a crime a person has already been sentenced to, currently they would have to serve the stricter sentence. This would ensure that criminal defendants are prosecuted under the most current laws on the books. The third part of this simply deletes part of the Constitution regarding high-speed transportation that was repealed in 2004 but the language was not removed. The ACLU of Florida supports this measure. The Florida League of Women Voters takes no position, stating the first part of this provision can’t be enforced, although “the provision that requires criminal suspects to be prosecuted for an obsolete law should be changed.” The Democratic Progressive Caucus recommends a no vote saying the “impact of criminal statute portion is unclear and disputed. Other repealed provisions are already unenforceable or expired.”
LWV- NO POSITION, DPCF- NO
"Expands current restrictions on lobbying for compensation by former public officers; creates restrictions on lobbying for compensation by serving public officers and former justices and judges; provides exceptions; prohibits abuse of a public position by public officers and employees to obtain a personal benefit."
The League of Women Voters: "Although there is need for lobbying reform, we felt that six years might be onerous, and this amendment does not address the real issue regarding lobbying, which is the impact of money in political campaigns."
LWV- NO POSITION, DPCF- NO
"Phases out commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected."
A YES vote would phase out commercial dog racing, notably greyhounds, in connection with wagering by 2020. Other gaming activities are not affected. Florida is home to 12 of the nation’s 18 dog racing tracks. The financial impact will be the loss of approximately $1 million dollars in taxes and fees. The League of Women Voters states: "This is primarily a gambling issue, and the League has held a consistent position against gambling." The Progressive Caucus considers dog racing to be inhumane.
LWV, DPCF- YES
Martin County Referendums
Martin County School District Half-Cent Per Dollar Sales Surtax Levy for Critical Capital Needs
"Shall a half-cent per dollar school sales surtax for critical capital needs be levied for a seven-year period beginning January 1, 2019, to provide security upgrades and enhancements at all schools, replace Jensen Beach Elementary and Palm City Elementary, and repair or renovate district-owned school buildings; with annual reporting to the county's citizens to ensure fiscal stewardship?"
Martin County Taxpayers Association article on proposed surtax here. Factors cited in the article related to the need for increasing revenue for the school board's capital budget include:
Reduction in millage cap imposed by the state in 2008. "This has reduced Martin County’s capital fund by $91.6 million to date. There is currently a $98 million backlog in what the School Board has categorized as critical capital needs."
The school board doesn't have a capital reserves fund and has no apparent budget provision for growth in the student population or repairs and replacement of buildings and other capital goods.
The capital budget is shared on a per-student basis with charter schools after debt service.
the School Board must make certain enhanced security changes to the schools to comply with legislative mandates because of Parkland."
Appointed Superintendent of School
"Shall the Superintendent of Schools be appointed by the School Board for the Martin County School District?"
Forty-four of the Florida's 67 districts have elected superintendents, with most of the large, urban systems opting for an appointed leader instead. Only Alabama and Mississippi also have elected superintendents, and Mississippi recently passed a law that will end that practice. Martin County voters have rejected switching to an appointed superintendent 4 times in the last 30 years. The argument for an appointed leader is that the school board would have to seek candidates who have a highly qualified background in education rather than political popularity.