Before reviewing the 12 proposed amendments to Florida’s Constitution, let’s examine for a moment the difference between a constitutional amendment and a law passed by the legislature.
The Florida Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, is the basic law of the land. It is, as they say, “cast in concrete” and can only be changed by a vote of the people. Laws are passed by our elected representatives and can be changed as the legislators feel appropriate without a vote of the people.
So, if our legislature likes the changes why not just put them into law? After all the legislators that proposed the amendments have the votes to do so. Are they trying to say if they turn out bad we voted for them? One member of our legislature, on a recent TV talk show said, “Don’t blame us; we just put them on the ballot. The voters had the final say.” Remember, we didn’t ask for this vote. It was thrust upon us so we must read, understand and vote — we have no choice!
When making my decision “yes” or “no” I took into consideration the recommendations of the League of Women Voters, the Miami Herald, Libertarian Alesh Houdek of Critical Miami, the Miami Association of Realtors and the Collins Center for Public Policy. Note that I have not printed the entire proposed amendments as they have too many words. Example: Amendment 1 contains approximately 315 words.
Amendment 1: Health Care Services
Basically, this amendment would prohibit the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) from taking effect in Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court already has certified the law so all that will result from the passage of Amendment 1 would be a very expensive legal battle by the state, which inevitably will result in Florida losing the battle — a legal battle financed by the taxpayers of our state. The only result if passed would be to show Washington how the voters of Florida feel about the Affordable Care Act.
Like the Affordable Care Act, or not, you should vote “NO” and save the state a lot of money. The proposed amendment is unconstitutional.
Amendment 2: Veterans Disabled Due To Combat Injury; Homestead Property Tax Discount
Amendment 2 expands the homestead provision of our law to include veterans that were disabled before becoming a resident of Florida. I must admit I do not understand this proposed amendment. Disabled veteran or not once you have established residency in Florida all Florida laws apply — including exemptions for veterans. I have asked several knowledgeable individual and they too do not understand.
This one you are on your own. What I do not understand I do not support. I will vote “NO.” And, I am a vet of the Korean Conflict.
Amendment 3: State Government Revenue Limitation
The amendment replaces the existing state revenue limitation currently based upon Florida personal income growth with a new system based upon inflation and population changes. The current limitation has not been reached since voters put it in the Constitution in 1994. However, our legislators still feel that it doesn’t go far enough and want the limits tightened up. One result would be that after collected taxes and fees reach the cap the excess would be returned to the taxpayers. Basically, the amendment tightens the state revenue limits in a way that could severely limit the amount of revenue required to meet the needs of the state.
I am voting “NO.” The state needs the income flexibility to meet emergencies.
Amendment 4: Property Tax Limitations (Etc)
The amendment will create an additional homestead exemption for first time homebuyers. The concept sounds appealing, that it might encourage home buying. However, in a state without an income tax we cannot continue to create additional tax exceptions. The revenue is required to meet the financial needs of the state.
I am voting “NO.”
Amendment 5: State Courts
Amendment 5 dilutes the concept of separation of the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial) by giving the legislature power over the operations of the Florida judicial system. Examples: It would give the legislature power over the rules that govern the courts; it would weaken the ability of the governor to make judicial appointments and would allow the Speaker of the Florida House to review confidential files on all judicial nominees.
I am voting “NO.”
Amendment 6: Prohibition On Public Funding Of Abortions (Etc)
The legislature says that Amendment 6 was created to save the state money. Don’t believe it. To quote the Miami Herald: “It is an attempt to make an end run around voters’ approval of the privacy amendment to the state’s Constitution and Supreme Court decisions that guarantee a woman’s right to seek an abortion.” It also stipulates that the state Constitution cannot be interpreted to include broader rights to an abortion than those contained in the U.S. Constitution. If you believe in restricting a women’s right to an abortion vote “YES.” If you believe a woman has a right to an abortion vote “NO.” I am voting “NO.”
Amendment 7: Religious Freedom
(This amendment was removed from the ballot and replaced with Amendment 8.)
Religious Freedom If passed, Amendment 8 would reverse a 126-year state constitutional provision known as the Blaine Amendment that prohibits taxpayer funding of religious institutions. Amendment 8 started as No. 7 but was challenged in court by several educational groups. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the legislative measure was deceptively worded and removed it from the ballot. The amended amendment would permit a voucher program, where state taxpayer funds would be used to pay for tuition at private religious schools.
The proposal is not about religious freedom, it is about using taxpayer funds to finance private religious schools. I am voting “NO.”
Amendment 9:Homestead Property Tax Exemption For Surviving Spouse Of (Etc) Amendment 9 gives the legislature the ability to waive real estate taxes for surviving spouses of military veterans and first responders (fire rescue and police). While a state with no income tax should always be against excluding tax revenues for such items as expensive yachts, which are currently exempt from sales tax, the taxpayers of our state can certainly afford the small loss of revenue out of respect for those that gave, and will give, their lives in defense of our nation.
I am voting “YES” on Amendment 9.
Amendment 10: Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption
This is simply an exemption from ad valorem taxes on high valued tangible personal property. We simply cannot afford any more tax exemptions. The state, the counties, the municipalities need the revenue to function. It’s that or a state income tax.
I vote “NO.”
Amendment 1: Additional Homestead Exemption, Low Income Seniors (Etc)
You will not pay real estate taxes if you are over 65, have owned your home for 25 years or more and the home is valued at $250,000 or less and you have low income as defined by general law. Who owns a $250,000 home and is classified as “low income?” The concept sounds great, but can we afford another tax exemption?
I will vote “NO” on this one. And, I am way over 65.
Amendment 12: Appointment Of Student Body President (Etc)
The president of the Florida Student Association is automatically a member of the State University System Board of Governors. Florida State University doesn’t want to pay the fee to be a member of the board of governors therefore the counsel of student presidents prohibits FSU’s student president from becoming a member of the board.
I say forget the amendment. Have FSU pay the fee and not mess with our state Constitution. I will vote “NO.”
On The Subject Of Judicual Retention
Remember to vote “Retain” for the three Florida Supreme Court justices: R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, who are the vindictive objects of removal because they do not vote in keeping with the wishes of the Florida Legislature. I will vote “TO RETAIN” the three judges.
One Final Comment
The ballot that is being placed before Miami-Dade voters is an abomination, 10 pages long and in three languages. I have spent hours reviewing the candidates for election to public office, the proposed amendments to our state Constitution, judicial retention and amendments to Miami- Dade County charter. The average voter will spend at least an hour in the voting booth going over the ballot before making his or her selections OR they will walk out in disgust and not even vote.
This is ridiculous and an offence to the voting public. If the legislature wants to do something constructive, mandate that the ballot be published in three separate editions: one in English, one in Spanish and one in Creole. The way it is now printed most voters will vote for President and walk out of the booth.
NEXT ISSUE: Proposed changes to the Miami-Dade Charter.
We appreciate your opinions on this column whether in agreement or disagreement. Please send your comments to (fax number) 305-662- 6980 or email to [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of this newspaper, its editors or publisher.