State amendments: from health reform to tax relief
Voters will pass judgment on a series of dense-sounding constitutional amendments. Here’s what you need to know.
10/28/2012 12:00 AM
11/02/2012 2:13 PM
A synopsis of the proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. The amendments must receive at least 60 percent of the vote to pass.
There is no Amendment 7
AMENDMENT 1, HEALTHCARE SERVICES
THE AMENDMENT: This amendment is aimed at prohibiting the government from directly or indirectly compelling employers to buy or provide healthcare coverage for their employees. It also makes clear in the constitution that people may pay healthcare providers directly for care — and don’t have to have insurance, and can’t be forced to pay a penalty or tax for paying out of pocket for healthcare.
CONTEXT: Opponents say the proposal would have no effect at nullifying its intended target, the federal healthcare individual mandate, because of the supremacy of federal law over state law. Backers say it would prevent future attempts to put similar healthcare requirements on residents.
AMENDMENT 2: HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION FOR VETERANS
THE AMENDMENT: The proposal would provide an additional homestead exemption to wounded veterans who were not residents of the state when they entered military service. The proposal would exempt from taxation a property’s value between $50,000 and $75,000.
CONTEXT: Florida law already provides an additional homestead exemption to military personnel disabled while in combat. The amendment simply expands the exemption to disabled veterans who may have been residents of other states when the disability occurred but who now reside in Florida.
AMENDMENT 3: REVENUE LIMITATION
THE AMENDMENT: Proposed Amendment 3 would replace the existing state revenue cap, which is based on personal income growth in Florida, with a new one based on inflation and population changes. If the state were to collect more in taxes than the formula allows, it would have to be put into a reserve fund, and not spent, and at some point would have to be used for reducing local property taxes for schools or returned to taxpayers. The cap could be raised only with a super majority vote in the Legislature.
CONTEXT: The state has never actually hit the current cap.
AMENDMENT 4: PROPERTY TAX RESTRICTIONS
THE AMENDMENT: The proposal would reduce the cap on tax assessment increases from 10 percent to 5 percent a year on commercial property. The plan also would provide an additional, temporary property tax break for first-time homebuyers and prevents tax assessments from going up when the market value of the property goes down.
CONTEXT: Backers say the amendment will continue efforts to rein in the increase in property taxes by expanding protections now afforded to homeowners. Opponents, including the Florida Association of Counties, say the measure will further hamstring cash-strapped local governments, which rely on property tax revenue for the bulk of their funding.
AMENDMENT 5: RULES FOR STATE COURTS
THE AMENDMENT: Proposed Amendment 5 would require Senate confirmation for state Supreme Court justices appointed by the governor and make it easier for lawmakers to influence court procedural rules, allowing them to change them with a simple majority vote, rather than a super majority. The proposal also would give lawmakers more access to confidential files involving judges accused of misconduct.
CONTEXT: Many lawyers and judges who oppose the amendment say lawmakers are trying to assert more control over a judiciary that many Republican legislators think has surpassed its own authority too often.
AMENDMENT 6: ABORTION RIGHTS AND FUNDING:
THE AMENDMENT: The proposal exempts abortion-related matters from protection under Florida’s Constitutional privacy clause, saying that the state constitution can provide only as much protection as the U.S. Constitution when it comes to abortion. The proposal also prohibits the use of state taxpayer funds to pay for abortions or insurance that covers abortions except in the case of rape, incest and when the health of the mother is in danger.
CONTEXT: Efforts by the state Legislature in recent years to place further restrictions on abortions have been overturned by the courts, which cite the Florida Constitution’s privacy clause. It was used, in particular, to nullify the state laws that required notice of parents before a minor gets an abortion, and consent of parents in the same situation. The constitution was subsequently changed to allow for parental notice — and those who oppose abortion rights say this would allow a new parental consent law. Supporters say the state should not provide protections beyond those afforded women under the U.S. Constitution, which contains no privacy clause. Critics say the proposal would affect more than abortion and strip away privacy clause protections for other issues surrounding women’s health and could be used as a precedent to whittle away other rights now protected under the state constitution’s privacy clause.
AMENDMENT 8: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
THE AMENDMENT: If the amendment is approved, the government would be barred from denying funding to organizations or institutions based on “religious identity or belief.” The proposal also deletes the current constitutional ban on using state money “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination, or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
CONTEXT: The amendment arises out of fears by backers of faith-based institutions, including prison ministries at the center of a court fight, that the current wording of the constitution could prevent state money from going to those groups. The issue is also embedded in the debate over school vouchers. While Florida’s main voucher program was rejected by the courts for other reasons, some backers of private religious schools fear students who attend them could be denied support because it could be deemed in aid of a sectarian institution.
AMENDMENT 9: TAX RELIEF FOR SURVIVING SPOUSES OF MILITARY/RESPONDERS
THE AMENDMENT: The proposal would provide additional property tax exemptions for the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died from service-connected causes or while on active duty. The exemption, which could equal the entire assessed value, would also extend such benefits to surviving spouses of first responders such as firefighters, paramedics, corrections and law enforcement officers.
CONTEXT: The proposal — one of several aimed at recognizing the contributions made and risks taken by military personnel and first responders — had no public opposition. State economists said the proposal’s financial impact would be minimal, but it would reduce local tax collections.
AMENDMENT 10: RAISING TANGIBLE TAX EXEMPTION
THE AMENDMENT: Amendment 10, if approved, would increase the exemption on tangible personal property from $25,000 to $50,000.
CONTEXT: The proposal has the backing of small-business groups, which say the tax is an unnecessary burden on small-business owners. State economists say the proposal, if enacted, would reduce local tax collections by at least $21 million a year beginning in 2013.
AMENDMENT 11: ADDITIONAL HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION; LOW-INCOME SENIORS
THE AMENDMENT: The amendment would authorize the Legislature to allow counties and cities to grant an additional homestead tax exemption equal to the assessed value of homestead property if the property has a just value less than $250,000 to an owner who has kept a permanent residency at the property for at least 25 years, is at least 65 years-old and has a low household income, as defined by law.
CONTEXT: This measure would allow lawmakers to grant a new tax break to certain low-income seniors.
AMENDMENT 12: SUS BOARD OF GOVERNORS’ STUDENT MEMBER
THE AMENDMENT: The proposal would change the way the student member of the State University System’s Board of Governors is chosen. The new student member would be the chairperson of the Council of Student Body Presidents and not the president of the Florida Student Association. The proposal also requires that all universities be part of the council of student body presidents.
CONTEXT: Backers say the current system discriminates against state universities that are not part of the Florida Student Association.
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