The Florida Legislature loaded up this year’s historically long ballot with 11 lengthy and confusing constitutional amendments — only to see voters reject almost all of them.
Eight of the amendments — including a massive property tax overhaul, abortion restrictions and a “religious freedom” proposal — failed to get the requisite 60 percent vote.
The outcome is a sweeping rejection of the Republican-led Legislature’s push to pile the ballot with long, complicated amendments, clogging precincts and causing voters to wait for hours in some cases. It was the worst outcome for constitutional amendments since 1978, when all nine of the state’s proposed amendments failed.
“This is some heavy lifting the Legislature hoisted onto the people of Florida,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “It’s a real tribute to Florida voters that they took the time to research the facts, and they sent the entree back to the kitchen.”
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Several groups, including the League of Women Voters, called on Floridians to reject all 11 proposals, which they labeled as misleading and inappropriate.
The most heavily advertised proposal, Amendment 4, failed after Realtors groups spent more than $4.7 million to pass the property tax overhaul.
It would have provided property tax relief to first-time homebuyers, second homeowners and businesses, while potentially gutting local governments of billions of dollars in future revenue. Opponents were outspent but argued the tax breaks would go to businesses and snowbirds, shifting the tax burden onto permanent residents.
Voters rejected it by a lopsided margin, giving it less than 43 percent of the vote.
Other property tax amendments fared better, with more than 60 percent of voters approving targeted tax relief for veterans (Amendment 2), poor senior-citizens (Amendment 11) and spouses of military veterans killed in the line of action (Amendment 9).
But all other amendments failed by large margins.
Amendment 10, a $20 million tax cut for small businesses championed by Gov. Rick Scott, also failed, receiving less than half of the vote. Amendment 3, a state-revenue cap backed by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, received less than 42 percent approval.
In perhaps one of the most decisive defeats of the night, nearly 65 percent of voters rejected Amendment 5, titled State Courts, which would have given the Legislature more power over the state’s judicial branch.
Voters sided with Supreme Court justices in a battle between the Republican-dominated Legislature and the courts. The proposal is widely viewed as an attempt by the Legislature to punish judges who struck down as unconstitutional several of the Legislature’s highest-priority laws.
“I think the public got a bit of a taste that the Legislature was trying to interfere with the political system,” said Justice Harry Lee Anstead, who retired from the state Supreme Court in 2009. “I do think the tension will be sharply reduced now between the Legislature and the courts.”
Voters — by an 11-point margin — also rejected Amendment 6, an anti-abortion amendment that would have enshrined the federal ban on tax money for abortions into the Florida Constitution. The change would have weakened privacy protections for women who want to terminate a pregnancy.
Amendment 8 also failed. Voters rejected the so-called Religious Freedom amendment, one of the most controversial on the ballot, by 56 percent. The proposal would have repealed the 127-year-old Blaine Amendment, which (in theory) banned the state from giving money to religious institutions. In truth, the state has long contracted with religious charities to house the poor, educate the illiterate and feed the hungry.
Voters also rejected an amendment that would have prohibited the state from requiring people to buy health insurance, which would have put the state constitution in conflict with federal law.