Friday, April 20, 2018

The November Amendment-Palooza. Guest Blog by Ross Hancock

 Amendment 5 is a poison pill, crafted by Republicans to ensure that any future Democratic majority will be fiscally powerless 

Maybe it’s just me, but for all the talk of a Blue Tsunami in November, I’m more fired up to vote on 13 state constitutional amendments than most of the races for office. I’m just not feeling the Bern for Donna Shalala and Bill Nelson. And the leading Dem gubernatorial candidates have put everyone in the State to sleep.  Adam Putnam, a lightening rod attracting enormous ire, is a candidate on the Republican side who is the stuff of nightmares, not sleep. Even the race that I’m personally in, for State House 114, probably won’t set the world on fire, since there is an election for that seat every couple of months or so, and everyone knows they can always just catch the next one.

That’s why a ballot laden with a record 13 constitutional amendments has me so excited that I just can’t hide it.

Anything good that has happened in Tallahassee in the past decade has been the result of voter-approved amendments. Our electeds are mostly lobbyists and semiprofessional officeholders, and at the end of the day, we don’t have much to show for casting our votes for them. But amendment referenda have brought us smaller class sizes in schools, fairer voting districts, solar energy progress, and preservation of environmentally sensitive lands. At least in theory.

And there are a few really good, life-changing amendments this time. Tops is the voter-initiated Florida Amendment 4—the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. It will bring Florida in line with most other states by extending voting rights to citizens who have served their felony sentences, except for the most serious crimes.

Also, be sure to support Amendment 12 on legislative ethics. It will prevent lobbyists from being public officials, and prevent public officials from becoming lobbyists for six years. It actually used to be illegal for lobbyists to serve in the legislature. Things have only gotten worse since we let the foxes into the chicken house. Nowadays, there are many races that don’t even have non-lobbyists running. That kinda cuts out the middleman between special interests and the government.

There are so many amendments on the November ballot that some unrelated (and potentially contradictory) issues were combined into about half of them, weirdly. For example, to vote against coastal drilling (Amendment 9), a ban on workplace vaping is included in the same measure, so you have to want both. Amendment 11 combines high-speed trains, a civil rights issue, and a rule on prosecution of repealed crimes. Amendment 6 mashes up a victims’ bill of rights with increasing the retirement age for judges.

There are other examples of bundled issues. This is just nuts. Who is running this state?

So while there are 13 amendments on the ballot, there are really more than 20 issues, but it’s like a menu of combo meals that doesn’t allow substitutions.

On the ugly side, there is Amendment 5, a poison pill crafted by Republicans to ensure that any future Democratic majority will be fiscally powerless. It mandates a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the state legislature to raise any taxes or fees forever. Oddly, our local Democratic leader Rep. Kionne McGhee broke party ranks and voted to put this monstrosity on the ballot.

Still, if I have to hold my nose for a few candidates who will be the lesser of two evils, at least I am fired up about voting rights for felons, and especially for ridding the legislature of lobbyist officeholders. Be amendment-smart and study up—and plan on spending some time in the voting booth on November 6.


Geniusofdespair said...

The amendments fall flat. They never fund them or find a way to skirt around most of them.

Ross said...

Here is my list of the first 6 of 13 amendments. There are a few worth voting for on gambling, etc

Legislatively referred Amendment 1, the Homestead Exemption Increase Amendment, exempts the portion of home values between $100,000 and $125,000 from property taxes other than school taxes, bringing the maximum homestead exemption up to $75,000.

Legislatively referred Amendment 2, the Permanent Cap on Nonhomestead Parcel Assessment Increases Amendment, makes permanent the cap of 10 percent on annual non-homestead parcel assessment increases set to expire on January 1, 2019.

Voter-initiated Amendment 3, the Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative, provides voters, through citizen-initiated ballot measures, with the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in Florida.

Voter-initiated Amendment 4, the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, automatically restores the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences, including prison, parole, and probation.

Legislatively referred Amendment 5, the Two-Thirds Vote of Legislature to Increase Taxes or Fees Amendment, requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the Florida State Legislature to enact new taxes or fees or increase existing ones.

Commission-referred Amendment 6, Victims' Rights and Judges bundled amendment, would establish a series of rights for crime victims, including the right to be notified of major developments in criminal cases and the right to be heard in legal proceedings. It would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. It would provide that judges or hearing officers should not necessarily defer to the interpretation of laws and rules by governmental agencies in legal proceedings.

Ross said...

Here are the rest of the 13:

Commission-referred grossly bundled Amendment 7, First Responders and Higher Education amendment, would require the payment of death benefits when law enforcement officers, paramedics, correctional officers and other first responders are killed while performing official duties. It also would apply to Florida National Guard and active-duty military members stationed in Florida. It would establish a governance system for the 28 state and community colleges. It would require a supermajority vote by university boards of trustees and the Board of Governors when raising student fees.

Commission-referred grossly bundled Amendment 8, Public Schools, would impose an eight-year term limit on school board members. It would allow an alternative process for approving public schools, including charter schools, rather than by local school boards. It would establish a requirement for the teaching of civic literacy in public schools.

Commission-referred weirdly titled Amendment 9, Oil Drilling and Vaping, would prohibit drilling for gas and oil in state coastal waters and ban vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces.

Commission-referred grossly bundled Amendment 10, Governmental Structure, would require all charter-county governments to have elected constitutional officers, including sheriffs. It would lead to the Legislature beginning its annual session in January in even-numbered years. It would create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism in the Department of Law Enforcement. It would revise the constitutional authority for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Commission-referred grossly bundled Amendment 11, Property Rights and High-Speed Rail, would remove language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property. It would remove obsolete language that authorizes a high-speed rail system. It would revise language to make clear that the repeal of a criminal statute does not affect the prosecution of any crime committed before the repeal.

Commission-referred Amendment 12, Ethics, would impose a six-year lobbying ban on former state elected officials, state agencies heads and local elected officials. It would also create a new ethics standard that would prohibit public officials from obtaining a “disproportionate benefit” from their actions while in office.

Commission-referred Amendment 13, Greyhound Racing, would ban greyhound racing at Florida tracks after Dec. 31, 2020.

Unknown said...

Ross, perhaps you know better than I. Is it legal to bundle these amendments the way they did? I vaguely recall that referenda must not be written in such a way as one issue is not related to another. Perhaps I am wrong. I have been a few times in the past!

The Homestead exemption increase should have been worded such that the exemption applies only to homes valued less than a certain number. This would give owners of lower valued homes a break while still collecting property tax on higher valued homes. I'm not for this as it puts local governments in a bind. Why do the FL Leg Repubs, the party of local control, insist on dictating how local governments operate? Shouldn't that be left to the local governments?

Marshmaid said...

Bill Nelson may not get you excited, but we should do everything we can to keep Rick Scott out of that seat!

Also, while vaping and oil drilling are not related, I think most folks would vote Yes to both.

Ross said...

There is going to be a lot more controversy as people realize how crazy it is to bundle issues this way. I hope there is a suit to stop it. The education one is a terrible hodgepodge. Plus, you shouldn't have to revise the constitution at all to accomplish 99% of these things. The legislature is too impaired to get anything beneficial done. And like Nancy says, even when these amendments pass, like the Water and Land Conservation Amendment (Amendment 1 in 2014), the state doesn't always fund or implement the will of the people.